Hearts on Fire

Report from the Reconciling Ministries’ Lake Junaluska Labor Day weekend

This narrative is offered with a minimum of editorial comment and used to narrate just some of what happened at the Southeastern Jurisdiction Labor Day weekend. Comparing the actions and words to orthodox Christian spirituality; one can see the vast gulf separating the two.

For many years I would take the youth from my own Camp Ground United Methodist Church to summer camp at Lake Junaluska. A retreat center for the Southeastern Jurisdiction (SEJ), it was always a special place for me. Set in the Smoky Mountains, the lake was nestled in tree-covered hills. At the end of the day, I would invite the kids to join me on the 2.6 mile walk in the early morning hours so that we could see the sunrise over the lake while sidestepping the "souvenirs" that the ducks and geese sometimes left on the path; invariably, there would be more girls than boys who would turn out for the morning exercise. For me, Lake Junaluska had a special "glow" about the place.

This past Labor Day weekend, that same location was host to the Reconciling Ministry Newtork’s (RMN) "Hearts on Fire" convocation over the Labor Day weekend September 2-5.

The Thursday preceding the conference I had attended a breakfast hosted by the Transforming Congregations program which works to bring people out of their lesbian/homosexual practices. We heard the testimonies of four people: Matthew Thompson, who was led out of homosexuality and was married to a beautiful young lady; M. J. Wilson, who was led out of a lesbian lifestyle and engaged in Christian ministry; Joseph Cluse, who was led out of a "transgendered" lifestyle into one of Christian ministry; and Terrence Toon, who was also led out of homosexuality and into Christian ministry. In addition to the formal parts of the program I talked with several residents of the Lake Junaluska community who were incensed that they had not been told about the conference until the last minute and felt betrayed. One lady said that an anonymous letter was sent to the local newspaper and then a last-minute announcement was made by SEJ staff after a news story was going to break the next day.

The RMN Mission Statement is: "Reconciling Ministries Network is a national grassroots organization that exists to enable full participation of people of all sexual orientations and gender identities in the life of the United Methodist Church, both in policy and practice." The RMN acts as an umbrella organization for various homosexual advocacy groups pushing for "full inclusion" of "gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered" people in the life of the United Methodist Church. Among the groups represented were MOSAIC focused on students and seminary personnel, Reconciling Ministries Clergy, Reconciling Parents Network, and UMs of Color for a Fully Inclusive Church. According to its website RMN counts as its supporters: 194 Congregations, 26 Campus Ministries, 22 Communities/Ministries, and 17,000 individuals.

One thing that stood out was the command center police van at the entrance to the Lake Junaluska assembly along with presence of police cruisers from the Lake Junaluska Police force, city police department, and North Carolina State Troopers. Another thing that seemed apparent was an apparent lack of forthrightness and truthfulness. While we have gotten word from UM pastors that many feel intimidated into silence about this event, conference personnel themselves seem to be less than forthright about the purpose of this gathering. When asked if the goal of this assembly was to change the goal or policy of the church, Monica Cursaro, Spokeswoman for the RMN, reportedly said, "No, it is to pray. But we are encouraged that there are seven bishops here and one is conservative." An examination of the workshops and review of what is said speaks to the opposite: strategizing and networking for change.

One of the first people I met was Mike. I was sitting on the porch outside my room at Mountainview Lodge watching the sun set over my part of the lake with the Smoky Mountains as a backdrop when he walked up. Single, he had flown in from his home in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. He is not a United Methodist but belongs to the Unity Church, which is similar to the Unitarian Church, except that their church believes in Jesus - not as Lord and Savior but as a human who "showed man the way." Mike has a little trouble with his pastor who believes that no evil exists in the world. Mike at present is on his "spiritual journey" where he is "trying to attain a higher state of ‘being good’ but he feels a pull back the other way" – so that is the reason why Mike feels that evil does exist. That evening on the porch, Mike was waiting for his roommate to arrive, a guy he had met while attending the W.O.W. (Witnessing our Welcome) conference in Philadelphia last year and whom he had not seen since. He had e-mailed his former roommate several times but had not spoken on the phone. I subsequently found out that other attendees were not from the United Methodist Church.

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I had signed up for and planned to attend two workshops: "Hope for the Church: Divorce, Reconciliation, or Something Else?" taught by Randy Miller (billed as an "honest discussion and discernment about the future of the United Methodist Church and the movement for greater inclusiveness for LGBT persons…"), and "Countering Homophobic Use of Scripture" taught by Youtha Hardman-Cromwell. However, when I checked in as a reporter for The Christian Methodist Newsletter I was informed that I had to wear a black "Press" badge at all times and would not be allowed to attend anything other than the plenary sessions held in Shackford Hall. In addition I was told that I could not take pictures during any of the sessions; at first recording was forbidden, but then later permitted to verify notes taken. I was shocked; in all of my years of attending conferences and meetings, I had never encountered such restrictions on the press. It was interesting, however, how participants at the conference absolutely did not want to have their pictures made; when I was photographing the linearly shaped "rose garden" that borders the northern edge of Lake Junaluska some of this conference’s participants who were walking at a distance from where I stood scattered out of camera range as quickly as they could.

I also found it a bit ironic that one of the purposes for meeting at Lake Junaluska and for which this movement had been pressing for over ten years was "open doors" admittance into all aspects of church participation, yet here we were (The Institute on Religion and Democracy’s [IRD] reporter John Lomperis was also there) being excluded from many of the significant activities of this conference.

Other than this exclusion, I was treated cordially by the attendees (with one exception) and those hosting the conference. I met several friends I have in that movement to include one who is involved in a homosexual relationship. Even though I strongly object to their practice and these people have a clear understanding of my position, there is a mutual respect and cordiality. I spoke with many of the leaders in that movement, hugged Beth Stroud, Kathryn Johnson (head of the Methodist Federation for Social Action, a far-left group), and others, and was given (by Frank Trotter, pastor of Metropolitan Memorial UMC in Washington, DC, the "flagship" UM church in the Washington area.) one of the colored yokes that those in the movement would drape around their necks as a sign of their solidarity in the movement (I declined to wear mine, of course). While there were aspects of this conference with which I could agree (the Parent’s Reconciling Network contention that "Our children are of sacred worth") most of the tenets and biblical interpretations were contrary to sound Scriptural teachings.

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Jeff Spellman from Plainfield, New Jersey, gave the official welcome for the conference itself. On Saturday morning when Jimmy Carr was introduced to the gathering, he received a prolonged, enthusiastic standing ovation. Jimmy then said, "It is with great pleasure that I welcome you in the name of Jesus Christ to Lake Junaluska….Bishop Kammerer said to welcome you and how sorry she is to not be with you this morning….On behalf of the Southeastern Jurisdiction, I welcome you to this conference….I continue to remind our staff we have to look beyond criticism so that it does not affect our job…Thank you on behalf of the United Methodists in the Southeastern Jurisdiction for your love and support…." Later during that same portion of the program, Joetta Rinehart received enthusiastic applause when she was introduced. Rev. Troy Plummer said, "I read somewhere that if you are going to sin – sin boldly…We’ve received congratulations from forty bishops." Then he went on to name them and to read portions of greetings from some: Greetings from Bishop Mary Ann Swenson: "How grieved I am that I cannot be with you…I affirm you are ministering to the whole body of Christ…Now with pure hearts we bless the divine…Jesus said we shall be persecuted…"

Troy Plummer enjoined the participants, "Do not be distracted."

Amid the bright colors and spirited music were a plethora of workshops, speakers and issues.

Just some of the workshops were:

"Building a Coalition to Fight Racism and Homophobia" will "begin a conversation about how racism shapes our efforts to fight homophobia." This was facilitated by Chris Paige, who the program directory sates is the "life-partner" of Beth Stroud.

"Talk Amongst Yourselves!" will "provide a LGBTQ-only (that is "lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, queer"-only) safe space for sharing and listening. LGBTQ persons make a distinctive and unique contribution to the Reconciling Movement, the United Methodist Church, and the Christian tradition. Gather with other LGBTQ persons to discuss our calling in the movement and church. This group met in Earl & Martha Wilson Children’s Complex #3.

"Domestic Partnerships, Civil Unions, Holy Unions, and Marriage": "ballot initiatives and amendments swirl around us. How does your reconciling presence as an individual, community, or congregation respond creatively and passionately to this national debate?"

"The Sacraments Sources of Equality, Liberation, and Justice" offered the idea that "the sacraments, baptism and Holy Communion can be powerful sources… toward full inclusion. At the font and the table, human distinctions lose their significance and ‘discrimination is revealed as sin’." The leader was Gayle C. Felton.

"Countering Homophobic use of Scripture" offers instruction on what to do when "people use scripture to exclude lgbt folks?" [True. The Scriptures do seem to be pretty plain in what they have to say about this practice.] Leader:Youtha Hardman-Cromwell is an elder in the Virginia Conference of the UMC.

"Hope for the Church: Divorce, Reconciliation or Something Else?" was billed as "This workshop will provide an opportunity for participants to engage in honest discussion and discernment about the future of the United Methodist Church and the movement for greater inclusiveness of LGBT persons" It was held at the Earl & Martha Wilson Children’s Complex.

"Building a Coalition to Fight Racism and Homophobia" is a workshop connecting the two. This was held in the Earl & Martha Wilson Children’s Complex #1.

"Queer Space: Let’s talk about Sex" is a "workshop…meant to provide an opportunity for gay, bi, and transsexual men to talk from the heart about sex and sexual ethics. Drawing on a variety of texts, we will seek to re-imagine a ‘beloved community’ in which queer sexuality is celebrated and affirmed as the good gift of a loving creator and redeemer. This workshop is targeted to gay, bi, and transsexual men." This was held at the Earl & Martha Wilson Children’s Complex #5, led by Randy Miller.

"Transgender 101: Learning the Basics" was taught by Erin K. Swenson, the ordained Presbyterian minister who underwent a sex change operation from being a man to a woman [whom I also met at the conference].

"Coming Out-Coming In: Faith Identity, Belonging" offers the insight that "You don’t have the luxury of taking no position." Another workshop "Nurturing Healthy Relationships Among Women" was held in the Earl & Martha Wilson Children’s Complex #6.

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Throughout the conference "Miracle Moments" were interjected that included short narratives:

"I was a victim of ex-gay ministries, but thankfully I have recovered."

We also heard from Mary from Dumbarton UMC, Washington, DC; Jackie from Atlanta, Georgia; Dick from California; Judy from Jonesboro, Tennessee; Leslie from Minnesota.; etc. A seminary student recognized members of several seminaries in attendance to include those from Clairemont, Iliff, Duke, Drew, and others.

One person from the "Parents Reconciling Network (PRN)" said, "I heard another parent say, ‘I have six children. I have one gay; the others are just "different".’"

John Vandestarr stated that he was an Episcopalian who had voted for [i.e., to consecrate as bishop] Gene Robinson. He stated, "My wish is that your church and my church can teach secular society that Scripture does not call for discrimination because of sexual orientation, and to the church that because of sexual orientation scripture [does not prohibit] a person from being a pastor or bishop." [applause]

Rich called the Reconciling Ministry Newtork the "really good news movement" to widespread cheers.

Phrases heard throughout the conference were: "welcome all of God’s children" "heterosexism and homophobia" "Making disciples for Jesus Christ" "Transforming the church"; the people repeatedly portrayed themselves as being "persecuted" and the "victims" of "hatred" and "exclusion."

The presentations were from a variety of speakers.

On Friday, September 3rd in her presentation Beth Stroud felt a "kindred spirit" with Elijah using the text from 1 Kings 17:11-18.. She herself was at the heart of the controversy when she announced that her relationship with another woman. With a very pleasing voice and presentation she drew a parallel between her "spiritual exhaustion" and that of Elijah. She talked about her "coming out" and the "hate mail" she had received from people. She had a conservative colleague on the West Coast who served are her defender; Beth would forward the offending e-mail to her and let her respond to the sender. She is an affable person and has a pleasing way of speaking. I later met her and expressed my regret at any true "hate mail" she may have received.

The Bible studies were given by Rev. Karen Oliveto. In her Friday, (8:49 P.M.) September 2nd three-point message, she cited some of the history milestones leading up to the ordination of women as preachers. Secondly, she talked about out "racist" culture in the fight against racial segregation. She dwelt for the longest part of her narrative on the third part of her message – the "exclusion of gays" from the life of the church – bringing this issue into parallel with the first two. She stated that we have the "tension of looking back while the Holy Spirit is looking forward" and "you can be witnesses to God’s transforming love." She noted that "Everything Jesus did was to help people to achieve two things: love God and love their neighbors" and that Jesus’ message was "no one is to be excluded from the community" dedicated to God’s transforming love. She said that when Jesus was ascending into heaven, He just laughed at His disciples who stood there looking up; she then drew the parallel that "will they keep their eyes on a past that is no longer." [In her message she makes the parallel that exclusion of females (who were born into that gender) and the exclusion of minorities (who were born into their respective races) with those practice the homosexual/lesbian lifestyles that they likewise are "born" that way – which is an erroneous and unproven theory. She errs in her fundamental tenet along with Jesus’ main purpose in coming to earth.]

On Saturday, September 3rd Bishop Minerva Carcano spoke on Matthew 14:13-21, Jesus’ feeding the five thousand. She stated that "no one asked about ethnicity…sexual orientation…" "No one was turned away…He was among the people and healed the sick." She then went on to cite an experience she had when she was a girl of feeling "excluded" by a congregation of "white" Methodists when her family moved from the Rio Grande Valley to a small town in North Texas. She then posed the question, "Do we share Jesus’ view that excluded no one" and made the point that "we are all members of the household of God" [Again, Bishop Carcano makes a fundamental error in implying that Jesus accepted everyone as they were and implied there was no need for them to change. She also errs in saying that "all people are members of the household of God" – an erroneous tenet of liberal theology.]

Later Rev. Oliveto used Acts 2:1-13; Genesis 1:2; and the Tower of Babel to talk about the Holy Spirit and the Spirit of God, how the Tower of Babel erected walls (through the different languages) and how Pentecost tore the walls down [which was a good contrast]. She then went on to say that "Faithful people of God can understand all experiences of God in different ways. Theological division is rooted in our interpretation of the Bible." She then went on to make the point that "progressive theology" is not universality. She commented that "…the text of the Bible is not God." [In other words, the Bible is not prescriptive for behavior; each person can do what he/she feels like. Or as the Bible put, "Each person did what was right in his own eyes." What we had at the Labor Day RMN conference is not new but as old as the Old Testament. "Progressive theology is based on the shifting sands of contemporary social theory.]

In Bishop Richard Wilke’s plenary presentation he held an "imaginary" conversation with Peter, Paul, James, and Luke, similar to the speech given by Bishop William R. Cannon at the 1990 Convocation held in Louisville, Kentucky. In these conversations, what emerged was that Jesus just accepted and loved people without correction; Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed, not because of homosexuality but because of "violent hospitality"; there was no such word in scriptures as "homosexuality" [True. Until the 19th century, other words were used for homosexual practice such as "that unnamed act"; "that which cannot be spoken of"; etc.]; Jesus’ ministry to the outcast exemplified by the parable of the Good Samaritan; and the woman at the well was rejected by five previous husbands possibly because she could not have children [the victim angle]. Bishop Wilke then went on to cite "modern science"; the American Psychological Association; and the American Psychiatric Association – but failed to mention that the latter two groups changed solely because of pressure. He then went on to cite the scripture verses in Ezekiel 16:49 and Romans 1:24, explaining away their references against homosexuality. He stated, "In every instance of the King James version of the Bible ‘sodomite’ refers to male prostitutes" with the implication that it was not referring to same-sex relations between "faithful" partners. [This is contrary to sound biblical scholarship and the teachings of some of the foremost authorities in that area.]

The Bishops’ Plenary Session:

Bishop Sally Dyck moderated the Bishops’ Panel with a series of questions:

"Opening comments on why you are here":

Bishop Susan Morrison: I came to the family reunion.

Bishop Minerva Carcano: I’m the bishop of all the people. [Yet she refused to be interviewed by IRD’s reporter.]

Bishop Melvin Talbert: You in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered (LGBT) [are] brothers and sisters. I am welcomed in the gay community in a way I [am not] in the regular community. I know what it means to experience oppression.

Bishop Scott Jones: I’m not a part of the Reconciling Methodist Network [just as I am not of] the Confessing Movement. I’ll be visiting with other groups. I want to be the bishop of the whole church. Unity is a gift from God.

Bishop Leo Schol: I’m sorry I’ve not always been the person I am today. I’ve made jokes about people I didn’t understand. [as repeated to me by Jeanne Rouse] I’m sorry that there are those in our church who not only disagree but who use this issue to take out their anger on other people. Thank you for being who God made has you.

"What words of hope would you have for Reconciling Ministries?"

Bishop Talbert: Don’t let anyone drive you away from the church even those who write the laws that discriminate against you.

Bishop Morrison: This is a generational issue. When I talk to young people they understand what the problem is.

The other bishops made varying comments.

"How do we stay together in a divided church?"

Bishop Schol: One of our greatest fears is conflict. I think that would help our unity is to be more comfortable with conflict in the church. Unity…to be more clear as to what our central mission is – to make disciples for Jesus Christ.

Bishop Jones: We have to understand the value of unity and to raise it higher [such as with the Nicene Creed]

Bishop Carcano lifted up the "witness" of Beth Stroud (to which there was applause).

Bishop Talbert: Unity means "uniformity." There is a conspiracy of silence. We want to appear to be in unity around the wrong thing.

Bishop Schol then stated "LGBT people should be in leadership in the Baltimore-Washington Conference" and Bishop Jones stated "What is happening in the UMC is a reflection of what is happening in the society. People don’t trust bishops. Our apportionment payout is 73%." [This is true. More and more people are coming to distrust their bishops, especially when they are not told the truth.]

"What is the prophetic role of bishop?" "What is the role of bishop?"

Bishop Jones: I’m a 4TH generation Methodist preacher….We have to go back to our doctrine. It is all about Jesus Christ. We have to remind people of who we are.

Bishop Morrison: I’m a child of the 60s. I was a generation ahead of my generation. I can tell you that one of the greatest events to me was the "Re-Imagining" Conference. [There was applause at the reference to "Re-Imagining Conference – a "re-making" of God in human image.] It was a struggle wanting to say more but feeling silenced.

Bishop Schol: Wanting to build trust. I want to be a bishop of the whole church…the more we can build trust in terms of dialog and conversation.

Bishop Talbert: What I discovered in my 20 years of the episcopacy is that [my] timing was always off. Ellie and Jean had their holy union [referencing the much-publicized "holy union" of two lesbians in his conference]. I want the church to be a safe place so that no matter what the issue is you can bring it to the church and deal with it. [One asks, "Would this include those who support the orthodox Christian faith?]

Bishop Dyck: I believe fear is the original sin. The prophetic role is to be a message of hope.

Bishop Jones: There are 25 new bishops. What happens in one jurisdiction affects all jurisdictions. What happens in one episcopal area affects all episcopal areas.

Bishop Morrison: One of the things about the Denver 15 was it broke the myth. It broke the silence. [The Denver 15 was the group of 15 retired and active bishops who publicly disagreed with the UMC’s position against homosexuality at the 1996 Denver General Conference – an action that would have a corporate executive to be fired and a military officer to be relieved of duty.]

Bishop Talbert: The Denver 15 was important but it was Mel Wheatley who took a stand [there was applause.] [Wheatley is the Colorado bishop who in the 1980s ordained Benjamin Rush, a self-avowed homosexual.]

Bishop Carcano: Bishops are holding each other accountable as to how they are going to make disciples for the whole world. [Should they not be accountable to the laity who pay their salaries?]

Bishop Dyck: We ask for all your prayers as we seek to be faithful to God. [Let us pray that they will be.]

Sunday, September 4th: Margaret Mallory brought greetings from the West Ohio Conference, from the bishop and cabinet. She used the scripture about Elisha picking up Elijah’s mantle after Elijah had been taken up by the chariot of fire in 2 Kings chapter 2. She challenged the people to "pick up the mantle" and pointed out that leadership is not about the faint of heart. She also stated that they could be used by God and be vessels of "God’s grace" in their activity in the church. Three things she pointed out about Elisha were:

Elisha was obedient.

Elisha was a risk-taker stating, "We have a different reality….We have been called to be allied with those who oppose injustice to all of God’s people. It’s a big order, folks, but we can fill it."

Elisha stepped out in faith to become the person Elijah anointed him to be.

She then went on to talk against the war in Iraq talking about the grief of the Iraqi people when they lost a loved one. However, she neglected to discuss the thousands who were killed under the murderous regime of Saddam Hussein to include the Kurdish men, women, and children killed by chemical/biological agents, or the joy the Iraqi people showed when American troops would take over a town.

She finished her presentation by saying that "God is calling God’s church to a more fullness of God’s spirit. I dare you to go home, pick up the Spirit’s mantle and cause your church to be a "welcoming" congregation [i.e., "accepting of homosexuals as they are without asking them to repent."] I dare you to pick up the mantle of courage, come out of your closets of fear. I dare you to have courage, and to stand up, speak up…. I dare you to lead the church of Jesus Christ." [It is interesting that there is frequent talk about an "inclusive church" and "lead the church" with little thought as to how their activities compare with obedience to the teachings of the Bible.]

A presentation by Randy Miller with "United Methodists of Color for a fully-inclusive church" addressed the issues of "racism and homophobia" in the church and used his speech as an opportunity to mention the Ku Kluz Klan who had a presence just outside the grounds of Lake Junaluska. He used the terms "associations of hatred and fear" which do not in reality apply to any of the conservative groups of which I know who are concerned about the departure of the United Methodist Church from the classical, orthodox Christian faith. He quoted the statement "all that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good [people] to do nothing" and attributed it to Martin Luther King, Jr.; in reality, it was Edmund Burke.

Rev. Oliveto led a "Bible study" using Acts chapter 10 dealing with the conversion of Cornelius, stating "…the church had a conversion experience – God had a change of heart about something…." She used the example of the sheet coming down with the revelation to Peter that foods that were previously thought to be unclean were now considered clean. She stated, "They were invited to the picnic. Little did they know that they were to become the main course." She then turned to Leviticus chapter 11 and discussed the Jewish laws about clean and unclean animals, pointing out that this was designed to keep the Jewish people pure.

She launched into a discussion of "White Privilege" – the "unearned advantage that was similar to a sort of invisible, weightless knapsack of passports….and supposed "code books" that imputed advantages on one because of skin color. She then posed the question on "white privilege" and asked, "What will I do to lessen it?" She then made similar parallels with "male privilege" and "hetero-privilege" with the statement, "There are…laws to provide advantages for hetero-married couples." She then spoke of "heterosexual privilege and homophobia" in our societies and our religious institutions and related them to our theology of sexuality and chosenness.

She then discussed a "Theology of Selection" pointing out in Genesis how Isaac was chosen over Ishamel, Jacob over Esau, Joseph over his brothers, and Israel’s election over all other nations with Israel being commanded to utterly destroy seven other nations, break down their altars, and smash their idols. She then pointed out that the concept of election generally means that if one is elected or chosen….the other is not. "Israel’s election means the exclusion of others." She brought in the point that "Our church’s culture led to the destruction of other cultures…Black…Chinese," etc. She then drew the parallel with this being used against lesbian, bisexual, gay, and transgendered people.

She concluded with, "When will we ever have the courage to turn our church’s theology of election on its head and truly have open hearts, open minds, open eyes, and open doors?"

Sue Laurie, the RMN Outreach Coordinator, stated early on that the church was involved in baptizing children without asking what their sexual orientation is (implying that this is determined at birth rather than a chosen practice). She then recited a history of their movement reviewing their use of the "Open the doors" campaign at the 1996 General Conference in Denver saying; "National [i.e., the national UM church] got it from us – naturally. We are reforming the church." As she would cite other milestones down through the 2004 General Conference in Pittsburgh, the people would then recite the refrain, "We are reforming the church!" [It should be noted that we in Concerned Methodists have long maintained that the present publicity effort for the UMC reflects the thinking of the "Open the doors" campaign used by the pro-homosexual activists at the 1996 General Conference in Denver. In that vein, this movement truly is reforming the church – to its priorities.]

Nominees during the awards presentations were:

The Cup of Justice and Voice in the Wilderness awards were initiated by the RMN board of directors at the 2001 convocation in Tacoma and continued at the 2003 convocation during the WOW Conference in Philadelphia. Elsie Vega, lay person, Spearfish, South Dakota. Coming out as a lesbian at 76 years old, Elsie is a grandmother of six and a faithful member of the Spearfish United Methodist Church. Elsie convinced her UMW group to cut, sew and iron 27 rainbow-patterned stoles to witness for inclusion at the Dakotas Annual Conference. Elsie testified before the South Dakota legislature "Two adults who love each other should have a right to marry. You don't need to know or try to figure out why I love the woman I love or why she would love me. You don’t need to figure that out or worry your minds about it."

Retired Reconciling Clergy of the New England Annual Conference. This…group of retired clergy makes public statements and takes action in support of gay marriage. Members of the group have officiated at same gender marriages....they have lobbied, paid for advertisements, and recruited support against any limiting marriage amendment in Massachusetts.

Rev. Troy Plummer repeatedly led the group in the refrain "Who are we? We are United Methodists of all sexual orientations and gender identities making disciples for Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world." During one part as he was leading the group he said, "We’ve already done it and we’re going to do it again and again and again and again. Then he asked, "Did you ever think we’d be here?" The audience shouted, "No." Then Troy said, "Just wait."

Randy Miller used the analogy of David and Goliath to depict the "small group" of their organization (David) standing against the Goliath of the church.

Jason and deMarco performed on Sunday night sang for the audience and told about their lives together. deMarco said that when "Jason walked into his world" he was with another guy. "When Jason and Michael walked off, I said, ‘I hate them. I must have him [i.e., Jason].’" Very talented in singing they provided music in addition to the Sugar Camp String Band."

On Monday, Karen Oliveto spoke from the book of Acts on driving the demon out of the slave girl, drawing an analogy of needing to drive the "demon" of "exclusion" out of the church.

A story was told of two 5-year old boys playing together. One spoke of wanting to marry another boy. His playmate said, "A boy can’t marry another boy." The first replied, "They can in my church." [This reflects not only what will be the witness of our own denomination if homosexual normalization is incorporated into church life but the influence it has on children – out next generation.]

There was talk about a church that includes lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgendered people (with no mention of heterosexual members).

Randy Preston gave the message in conjunction with the "communion" service, using the example of Elisha’s throwing flour into the pot after other prophets had told him that there was "death in the pot." Randy drew the analogy that there "was death in this pot called the United Methodist Church." He then stated that there was "enriched super flour [laughter from the audience] that will go into the pot" [of the UMC]. He then stated, "Do you realize what the UMC would be if we were not here? There’d be death in this pot."

It should be added that he is the person who went up during a communion service at the 2004 General Conference, picked up and then deliberately dropped a chalice [that had been brought by an African delegation]; the chalice was smashed. He told the audience at Junaluska that "God [was] calling me to go up and drop a chalice." One can only question as to whether that was an authentic calling from the Lord.

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In retrospect, while there were music and the bright colors of their "rainbow" symbolism, I felt a sense of heaviness and sadness at the affirmations from bishops, the preaching, the workshops, and the activities. The Bible tells us that "sin separates us from God" and that the human heart is "deceitful" in not allowing us to discern the truth apart from the (true) Holy Spirit. The sin acts as a barrier between an individual and God. A person in this condition cannot be in a right relationship with Him, much less serve as a spiritual leader for others.] God is a God of orderliness and consistency who does not change. Above all He is a holy God. The standards He has had for over 2000 years have not changed. His standards of morality have not changed.

The Bible is clear, consistent, and unmistakably clear in teaching that sexuality is to take place between a husband and wife within the context of marriage; anything else is sin. In I Corinthians 6:15-20, Paul speaks about our bodies being the temple of the Holy Spirit and that, "All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body." In addition Matthew 7:1-5 shows us that one who is involved in sin cannot always see the error of his ways but often imputes onto others what unconsciously he sees in himself and becomes hyper-critical of others who point out the reality of one’s practice. This appears to be the case with those who espousing the "gay rights" agenda. They presume to have the "final" or "progressive" word on what is "just" while ignoring the very-real consequences of this way of living. However, we must focus on the truth.

One can only view the activities that happened at Lake Junaluska with dismay and alarm – alarm for not only the welfare and future of our United Methodist Church, but also for the implications for American society as a whole. "Heterosexism" and "homophobia" were spoken of as twin evils that needed to be stamped out. In addition, inclusion of LGBT people in leadership of the church was cited as being a solution to our declining membership. If this were in fact enacted, the exodus of orthodox Christian people from the denomination would be greatly accelerated and the entrance of LGBT people into the denomination would take place. This in turn would make the assets of the over 41 billion dollar denomination available to press for the normalization of homosexual practice within American society.

That these people are determined to change the United Methodist Church is unmistakable. Examine the reality for yourselves. Go to the Concerned Methodists’ website for more information on this practice and to evaluate what the Scriptural, sociological, psychological, and medical consequences of this practice are; it does not result in a healthy lifestyle nor in spiritual well-being.

If we do not recapture God’s standards for truth and incorporate it back into the body of our denomination, we are indeed in for a troubling future.

Toward the end of this conference, Jeff Spellman had said, "This place will never be the same after we have been here."

He’s exactly right. Lake Junaluska will never be the same. For me the "glow" has left.

- Allen O. Morris, attendee at the conference and editor of The Christian Methodist Newsletter

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Extracted from the IRD article Bishops Rally to Support "Hearts on Fire" by John Lomperis.

Under a placard that said "Bishops' Letters of Support," "Hearts on Fire" organizers displayed copies of letters from eight active and fifteen retired bishops who wrote to state their support for the "Reconciling" cause, express their regret at not being able to attend the conference, applaud the controversial decision of Lake Junaluska Executive Director Jimmy Carr to rent the official church facility to the conference, and/or criticize conservative United Methodist opponents of the conference.

The active bishops were Sudarshana Devadhar (Greater New Jersey Conference), Robert T. Hoshibata (Oregon-Idaho), Hee-Soo Jung (Northern Illinois), Charlene P. Kammerer (Virginia), Edward W. Paup (Alaska Missionary and Pacific Northwest), Ann B. Sherer (Nebraska), Mary Ann Swenson (California-Pacific), and Hope Morgan Ward (Mississippi). The retired bishops were Ray W. Chamberlain, Judith Craig, William W. Dew, Jr., Jesse R. DeWitt, William Boyd Grove, Susan W. Hassinger, S. Clifton Ives, Charles Wesley Jordan, Marshall L. Meadors, Jr., Donald A. Ott, Sharon Zimmerman Rader, Roy I. Sano (currently serving as the Executive Secretary for the Council of Bishops), Forrest C. Stith, Jack M. Tuell, and Joseph H. Yeakel.

Bishop Kammerer, who chairs the Southeastern Jurisdiction Connectional Table that oversees the Lake Junaluska facility, regretted that family obligations prevented her from attending the conference, lamented a "firestorm of mean-spirited and hate-filled letters/e-mails," and opined that "the fact that the KKK is chiming in links those in our church who also spew hate-filled messages to any of God's children." One of the daily newsletters that Reconciling produced for conference participants praised Kammerer for having "been so supportive of our community and this Convo" and encouraged people to send her "[l]etters of support and care."

Conference organizers also boasted of receiving "greetings" from nine additional bishops: Violet L. Fisher (Western New York and North Central New York Conferences), Alfred Gwinn (North Carolina), Deborah L. Kiesey (Dakotas), Jane Allen Middleton (Central Pennsylvania), Beverly Shamana (California-Nevada), Monk Bryan (retired), Calvin D. McConnell (retired), C. Joseph Sprague (retired), and Melvin E. Wheatley, Jr. (retired).

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An editorial note I had included in the last issue of our newsletter stated: The phrase "Open Hearts, Open Doors, Open Minds" is similar to what we saw at the 1996 General Conference in Denver when pro-gay activists initiated their "open doors" campaign to push for their agenda there. It is ironic that church officials work so hard to "open the doors" for the pro-gay folks but are relentless in trying to exclude those of us who work for revival in the United Methodist Church, and support the orthodox Christian faith, morality, and the Book of Discipline's teachings within our denomination. - Allen O. Morris

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