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Disaffiliation Blues
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Methodist educator Mary McLeod Bethune became the first Black woman enshrined in Statuary Hall at the U.S. Capitol July 13. Bethune's statue replaces that of Confederate general Edmund Kirby Smith to represent the State of Florida, where UMC-related Bethune-Cookman University is located. The educator's granddaughter, Evelyn Bethune, front left in yellow, speaks with Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, as members of the Congressional Black Caucus gather around the unveiled statue. Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., is at front right. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

It's summertime in the Northern Hemisphere, but the living isn't easy. While scorching heat saps life from Europe and the United States, local congregations wrestle with votes over whether to leave the UMC or stay to craft a new denomination.
 
Disaffiliation blues have taken over many congregations this summer, judging from the plethora of social media posts lamenting anticipated votes on leaving the church. Insight Editor Cynthia B. Astle took stock of some of the local campaigns being waged over congregations' loyalty. A prime example of the struggle emerged at First UMC in Jonesboro, Ark., where a loyalist group calling itself "Stay UMC Jonesboro" set up a Facebook account to share its rationales after complaining that a pro-disaffiliation clique was blocking full information to the members. Similar complaints were sent to Insight from longtime church members in Louisiana and Texas.
 
In response to rumors being promulgated by pro-disaffiliation forces about The United Methodist Church's future, Ask the UMC began a series: Is The United Methodist Church Really...? (Part 1). The first installment debunks rumors such as " [is the UMC] about to alter its doctrine to deny the virgin birth, the divinity of Jesus Christ or salvation through Christ alone?" The answer is decidedly "no," as these and other orthodox Christian doctrines form the bedrock of United Methodist beliefs.
 
While dissidents agitate for congregations to depart the UMC, recent research sponsored by Reconciling Ministries Network shows that LGBTQ-affirming United Methodists think the denomination is “worth fighting for.” Conducted by Nancy Malcom and A. J. Ramirez, the survey asked participants "why they stay in a denomination that has been hostile to the LGBTQ+ community, whether they have considered leaving the denomination, and, for those who had already made the decision to leave: whether they would consider returning to The UMC," according to an RMN article. 
 
Questions of United Methodist identity and theology – two of the criticisms leveled by dissidents seeking to persuade churches to disaffiliate – also captured Ms. Astle's attention. In "UMC Theology Officially at Odds with Supreme Court Decisions," she cites chapter and verse from the Book of Discipline describing how the denomination formally opposes the legal, religious and political philosophies underlying recent high court decisions on abortion, environmental regulation and church-state separation.
 
Expanding on recent high court rulings, Ask the UMC also has crafted a seven-part series, "Valuing Life," that opens with two installments, "Valuing Life Part 1: Before we are born — Maternal and neonatal health" and
"Valuing Life Part 2: When care cannot be sustained —  Abortion and adoption." The series combines United Methodist social policies with real-life examples of how those beliefs are carried out by churches and individuals. Future segments will cover child welfare, health care for all, mental health, suicide, euthanasia and capital punishment, and care for the dying and grieving.
 
Heartbreaking news came from Ethiopia, where conference communicator Gad Maiga reported that at least three United Methodists were among 37 people, including children, who were killed in recent fighting between separatists and government forces in the Gambella district. The United Methodist Committee on Relief has sent an initial $10,000 to the Kenya-Ethiopia Conference to help feed and shelter displaced persons, with a larger effort being planned.
 
The past week has proven busy for United Methodist boards and agencies that have announced new activities:
 Episcopal bishops line up behind a Bishops Unite Against Gun Violence banner July 8 at the start of a march marking the death of a man by gun violence the day before, just blocks away from the Baltimore Convention Center where the 80th General Convention is meeting. (Photo: Melodie Woerman/Episcopal News Service)

Gun violence remained on the radar of U.S. Christians. Hundreds of Episcopalians marched in Baltimore, Md., during their general convention after an Episcopal bishop witnessed a shooting on her way back to her hotel from the meeting. Retired clergyman Jerry Eckert proposed United Methodists adopt a parish-like scheme to provide pastoral care to at-risk persons before they become mass shooters. The Rev. Rebekah Simon-Peter continued her focus on gun violence, suggesting that churches promote gun safety while they secure their premises from shooters.
 
In the wake of the week's challenges and tragedies, we can think of no more uplifting way to end this newsletter than with these stunning photographs of the distant cosmos taken from the James Webb Space Telescope and unveiled this week by NASA. The glory of God's creation stretches over and around us, reducing our petty human squabbles to insignificance. Let's use these images to contemplate God's universe as we move through our coming week, actively seeking new ways in which we can be better stewards of the magnificent creation  – and all of its life – that God has given us.


IMAGES BY NASA, ESA, CSA, AND STSCI


Images from James Webb Space Telescope show stunning views of the cosmos from 13 billion years ago – the time it takes for light to travel from these deep-space regions to Earth. The first photo is a "deep field" image showing the infinite number of stars and galaxies in a small portion of the universe. The second photo shows  a "landscape of 'mountains' and 'valleys' speckled with glittering stars [that] is actually the edge of a nearby, young, star-forming region called NGC 3324 in the Carina Nebula," says NASA's website. At right, NASA reports: "Stephan’s Quintet, a visual grouping of five galaxies, is best known for being prominently featured in the holiday classic film, 'It’s a Wonderful Life.'” This image shows vast new details of the galaxies' region.
 

Words for Your Week

" ...Life does not provide us with ‘automatic focus.’ Sometimes our images of ourselves and what we encounter in life are out of focus and/or blurred. Sometimes we allow others to tell us what the focus should be, and as a result we miss something important. ... Bringing life into focus means recognizing other people for who they are, and life situations for what they mean. ... An honest effort at listening and understanding others and the surrounding world around brings focus to life's relationships, and reveals the context in which we live and where we flounder or flourish."
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UMC Theology Officially at Odds with Supreme Court Decisions

By Cynthia B. Astle on Jul 14, 2022 01:24 pm
From its core beliefs through its Christian living guides known as the Social Principles, United Methodist theology stands opposed to the legal, political and religious philosophies behind the Supreme Court's most recent rulings.
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Church Members Slain in Ethiopia

By Gad Maiga on Jul 14, 2022 01:24 pm
Thirty-seven people, including some United Methodists, were killed during an attack in Gambella in western Ethiopia. The United Methodist Committee on Relief is sending $10,000 in aid after deadly clashes between separatists and government forces.
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GCFA Adds Interfaith Federal Credit Union as Newest Ministry Partner

By Brandy Bivens on Jul 14, 2022 01:24 pm
Headquartered in Montclair Calif., Interfaith Federal Credit Union has offices in Arizona, South Dakota, Missouri, Tennesse and Maine, offering a national footprint and membership to the United Methodist family.
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Bringing Life Into Focus

By F. Richard Garland on Jul 14, 2022 01:24 pm
Life doesn't provide us with "automatic focus." Sometimes our images of ourselves and what we encounter in life are out of focus and/or blurred. Sometimes we allow others to tell us what the focus should be, and we miss something important.
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Summer Heat Brings Snippets of Crisis News

By Cynthia B. Astle on Jul 14, 2022 01:24 pm
It's too hot for much of human life in the Northern Hemisphere.
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Making Home Altars

By Jim Burklo on Jul 14, 2022 01:24 pm
Altars in varied forms appear in almost all the world’s spiritual traditions.  They are tables or spaces set apart for ritual observances of the relationships between people and Ultimate Reality.
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With Latest Gift, United Women in Faith Hopes to Spur Investments in Entities Led by Women of Color

By Jennifer R. Farmer on Jul 14, 2022 01:24 pm
The Seventh Generation Fund for Indigenous Peoples, which is the oldest organization of its kind and is dedicated to Indigenous peoples’ self-determination and Native nations’ sovereignty.
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Wespath and Gammon Partner to Address Financial Wellness for Underserved and Pandemic-Impacted Clergy

By Julie Capozzi on Jul 14, 2022 01:24 pm
A shared vision for systemic change will strengthen the financial education resources available to underrepresented clergy groups, say the partners.
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Newsletter Helps Support Advancement of Women Within the Church

By General Commission on Status and Role of Women on Jul 13, 2022 04:20 pm
A new monthly e-newsletter produced by the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women (GCSRW) will serve as a resource to help equip United Methodists to embrace the role of women within the church more fully.
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Keeping Safe Places Safe: The Church and Gun Policies

By Rebekah Simon-Peter on Jul 13, 2022 04:19 pm
While churches are meant to be havens of safety, even they are no longer immune to gun violence. It’s time for the church to take a more hands on approach to reducing gun violence.
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United Methodist Disaffiliation Blues

By Cynthia B. Astle on Jul 13, 2022 04:19 pm
Social media groans with anxious United Methodists describing disaffiliation meetings at their beloved congregations. Many posts express frustration at being unable to refute skewed information before disaffiliation votes.
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'Valuing Life' Series Explores United Methodist Ethics

By Cynthia B. Astle on Jul 13, 2022 04:19 pm
Ask the UMC tackles recent social issues with a new 7-part series on United Methodist ethics from the beginning to the end of life.
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Listen. Listening. Listened.

By M. Wayne Clark on Jul 12, 2022 03:52 pm
Having listened to Jesus’ teachings, people whose hearts had been hardened, necks stiffened, or who were just plain stubborn had the opportunity to cast it all aside.
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A History of Incompatibility, Part 13

By Charlie Baber on Jul 12, 2022 03:52 pm
Wesley Bros creator Charlie Baber moves into a final phase of his "History of Incompatiblity" series that is heavily influenced by John Wesley's popular 1778 abolitionist pamphlet, "Thoughts Upon Slavery."
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“Worth Fighting For”: Research Findings on Affirming United Methodists’ Decision to Stay or Leave

By Nancy Malcom and A. J. Ramirez on Jul 12, 2022 03:51 pm
A recent survey of LGBTQ+-affirming United Methodists provides a glimpse into the decisions being made by lay members and clergy as they navigate the controversy within the denomination over inclusion of LGBTQ+ individuals.
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Urgent: Tell the House to Pass a Defense Budget that Prioritizes Human Dignity over Weapons

By Church and Society on Jul 11, 2022 02:41 pm
United Methodists believe that national budgets are moral documents. As a result, the General Board of Church and Society urges members to promote human values military claims as governments determine budget priorities.
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How to Care for a Potential Shooter

By Jerry Eckert on Jul 11, 2022 10:14 am
The Rev. Jerry Eckert suggests a way to start a "red flag" ministry that will care for potential shooters before they pick up their guns to hurt people.
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Hundreds of Episcopalians March, Calling for an End to Gun Violence

By Melodie Woerman on Jul 11, 2022 10:14 am
A murder on July 7 near the site of the Episcopal Church's General Convention and the urging of two bishops, including one who happened upon the scene as it unfolded, prompted a march of hundreds of people against gun violence.
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United Women in Faith Opposes Supreme Court EPA Ruling

By Yvette Moore on Jul 11, 2022 10:14 am
United Women in Faith's advocacy director decries the U.S. Supreme Court decision that has stripped the Environmental Protection Agency of its power to regulate carbon emissions.
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Is The United Methodist Church Really...? (Part 1)

By Ask the UMC on Jul 11, 2022 10:14 am
Ask the UMC explains and debunks most of the untruths being told about the United Methodist Church by those who are encouraging others to leave the denomination.
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