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"
"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.