Institute on Religion and Democracy
May 7, 2000
At an evening of "celebration and witness" by the Methodist Federation for Social Action (MFSA) on May 6, the Rev. James Lawson launched a bitter attack against "right-wing" United Methodist renewal organizations. He was apparently upset that these groups were going to be successful in persuading the denomination's governing General Conference, currently meeting in Cleveland, to retain its traditional teachings about sexuality.
"The church is under assault by Good News, the IRD [the Institute on Religion and Democracy], the Confessing Movement and the Mission Society [for United Methodists]," Lawson declared. "They are not interested in serving Jesus Christ. They are interested in the management and control of the United Methodist Church."
Lawson, a leader of the civil rights movement during the 1960's, is pastor emeritus of the Holcomb United Methodist Church in Los Angeles. He was receiving the Lee and Mae Ball Award from MFSA, a nearly one hundred year old liberal social action caucus within the church. But rather than speak of MFSA's accomplishments or goals, Lawson chose to condemn its perceived enemies.
"They are more interested in preserving white supremacy and male domination," he alleged about the renewal groups. "I am ashamed that the national leadership of the United Methodist Church doesn't understand the church is under assault. And that assault will continue!"
Many of Lawson's comments about United Methodist renewal groups received enthusiastic applause from the several hundred MFSA supporters who packed the First United Methodist Church in Cleveland. The cheers were especially loud when he announced, "They are not voices of God but voices of white privilege, greed, capitalism, racism, wrong and American domination of the rest of the world," he insisted.
Lawson wove the UM renewal groups into a larger web of sinister collaboration that is persecuting oppressed peoples around the world. "Good News and the IRD, with backing from money they will never tell us is coming from [sic], don't want the United Methodist Church to become the voice of Iraq or Palestine or hungry children in this country." Lawson further alleged that Good News and the IRD, with "their counterparts in other denominations and in the political world," are responsible for imprisoning two million Americans, in an apparent reference to the total prison population of the U.S. "It's our own version of the holocaust. And it's not going to get any better."
In a final jab at the renewal groups, Lawson insisted they "belong to the right-wing ideological junk of America. They have the money and the staff and the attention of the media." But Lawson insisted they cannot win and that their "assault on the church" is a sign of their weakness, not strength. Unfortunately, Lawson surmised, these groups will still cause "men and women and children and young people to suffer unnecessarily." He also warned, "We cannot win unless we see the enemy for who he is."
In a justification for planned upcoming acts of civil disobedience by pro-homosexuality caucus groups at the General Conference, Lawson surmised that "the church will not be persuaded by our conversation" because "the church is seduced by elements that are not of the church."
"We will make the church unmanageable until the church decides it will serve God and not America," Lawson warned. In other comments, Lawson accused the U.S. of murdering 5,000 children in Iraq every month because of its trade sanctions against Saddam Hussein's government. And he said the greatest "enemy of truth and justice in the world today is the United States of America," and the church's proper role is to "turn America towards the right."
Lawson was not on the only awardee at the MFSA celebration. Mark Bowman, head of the pro-homosexuality Reconciling Congregations, received an award from United Methodist Bishop Judith Craig of Columbus, Ohio. Craig sadly recalled that, years before, church law had forced her to refuse ordination to Bowman because he was openly homosexual. "You knew a lot more about faithfulness than I did," Craig said to Bowman. "This award is balm on a gaping wound that remains in the church. You are loved and honored."
Bowman responded, "I am somebody who doesn't take no for an answer." And he celebrated that because he had been refused ordination by the United Methodist Church, he had been "liberated for the ministry that God had in store for me." He expressed hope that the work of Reconciling Congregations will make the United Methodist Church "less of a rest home for old persons and more of a launching pad for young people." Bowman and other speakers seemed to acknowledge they did not expect to win at this General Conference. They encouraged the crowd instead to expect victory at the next General Conference, which will be in Pittsburgh in 2004.