upcoming meeting

Northern Illinois Conference
Evangelical Association
June 7, 2012
5:30 p.m.
Broadway Ballroom
Pheasant Run Resort

NICEA usually meets on the first Saturday morning of each month.
Next Meeting:

James Blue, 1771 Sherwood Road, Des Plaines, IL 60016

Press Release:

Judicial Council News:

North Central Jurisdictional Conference of The United Methodist Church
July 14 - 17, 2004  RiverCenter  *  Davenport, Iowa
     NOTE:  Links to information on bishops are added.

Dakotas:   Deborah Lieder Kiesey
Detroit/West Michigan:   Jonathan D. Keaton
East Ohio:   John L. Hopkins
Illinois Great Rivers:   Sharon A. Brown Christopher
Iowa:   Gregory V. Palmer
Minnesota:   Sally Dyck
Northern Illinois/Chicago Area:   Hee Soo Jung
Indiana Area:   Michael J. Coyner
West Ohio:   Bruce R. Ough
Wisconsin:   Linda Lee

North Central Jurisdiction to elect 3 bishops 

The 24-member Northern Illinois Conference (NIC) delegation to the North Central Jurisdictional Conference has endorsed the Rev. Sally Dyck, clergy member of the East Ohio Conference, for election as bishop. The North Central Jurisdictional Conference will meet in Davenport, Iowa, July 14-17, to elect three new bishops. Up-to-the-minute election results are available at the United Methodist Church web site:"

"...Harriet McCabe, vice-chair of the delegation, said NIC delegates voted to endorse Dyck at their last meeting, which was held before General Conference met April 27-May 7 in Pittsburgh. She said the delegates never had the opportunity to discuss the candidacy of the Rev. William Owen, NIC clergy member, because he did not announce his candidacy until after General Conference.

“We have not met since that time,” McCabe said, “so there has not been any opportunity to hear from Bill Owen. He’s never been before the delegation, and we will not meet again until we’re in Davenport.”

McCabe said the delegation expects to meet with Owen while it is in Davenport.

“We’ll be meeting with as many candidates as we can,” McCabe said. “That’s the normal procedure. All delegations meet with as many candidates as they can.” ...

NICEA endorses Owen for bishop
Owen supports “orthodox theology” and calls himself “a Wesleyan evangelical.” His candidacy has been endorsed by the NIC Evangelical Association.

Owen believes the church must be evangelical and also emphasize mission and social justice. “We really can’t separate any of those things,” he said. “We have to be very intentional about reaching out to the unchurched. We have to be very intentional about mission, taking the limited resources we have and making them most effective.”

Owen supports the denomination’s current stance on homosexuality. “I don’t support bishops and others doing their own thing,” he said. “That brings us to the brink of schism. We need to work for civil rights of all people, homosexuals as well, but we can’t have anarchy in our system. We must follow due process.”

Bishop Sprague on election of bishops
  • The role of bishop is primarily that of preacher, teacher, spokes-person, appointment- maker, vision-caster, permission-giver and model for the integrous, rooted and courageous practice of pastoral ministry; and,
  • A bishop must be: centered in God, as revealed in Jesus; biblically and theologically informed; administratively polished; able to articulate and incarnate the Gospel; fair, familiar with and unafraid of conflict; collegial yet able to “bish” when necessary; and, one who can transcend personal commitments in order to point others to the joy and challenge of following and serving Christ regardless of the costs incurred.

General Conference 2004

About General Conference 2004

General Conference 2004 News

General Conference Delegates

Legislation Tracking

News from This week at umc.0rg

Not sure how General Conference works? Here’s GC101

When the United Methodist Church’s top legislative body meets this spring in Pittsburgh, nearly 1,000 delegates from around the world will once again speak to issues of the day and set direction for the denomination.

Convened every four years, the General Conference is the only entity that speaks for the entire 10-million member denomination. The 2004 assembly will meet April 27-May 7 in Pittsburgh.

Understanding how General Conference works can be a challenge, even for people who have attended it in the past. [more]

General Conference 2004 Newsletter

A free General Conference 2004 electronic newsletter subscription is now available at Subscribers will receive news, feature stories and scheduled online offerings daily by e-mail through General Conference.

News from Good News

NEW WEBSITE! This is yet another place you can find General Conference information and prayer updates. There will be daily newsletters on this site once GC starts!

Resolutions and petitions that are in the pipeline for General Conference. Find out who your representative is at General Conference and urge them to support the resolutions and petitions of your choice. Representatives can be found by contacting your district office.

 General Conference 2004

About General Conference 2004

General Conference 2004 News

General Conference Delegates

Legislation Tracking

The United Methodist Reporter 2/25/04
Digest with Links to Full Articles
For Northern Illinois Conference Laity

HERE I STAND: Why I'm afraid of Passion
By Barak Richman, Special to Reporter Interactive, Assistant Professor of law at United Methodist-related Duke University.

The Romans brutally tortured and killed my ancestors too, and my Jewish experience was built on their martyrdom, not the acts of Jewish political appointees.

Nonetheless, Passion only tells of certain corrupt Jews and encourages guilt by association. The memories of similar accounts fanning American Christians' hatred for American Jews remain vivid, and so I am afraid.

I am no historian and cannot speak to the movie's veracity. In any event, it is of course absurd to blame me and my family for evils done by individual Jews of earlier generations, and similarly it would be absurd for me to assume responsibility (or to feel guilty by association) for those evils.

Now there is a movie, pledging historical accuracy, that revives the image of the Jewish Christ killer.

Passion Watch

"I found myself distanced from Jesus because of the violence. I could not identify with him." -- The Rev. Philip L. Blackwell, senior pastor, First UMC-Chicago Temple, part of an interfaith panel of Christian and Jewish clergy members and laypeople who watch the movie. He was quoted by the New York Times.

"My concern about it is the use of graphic violence and heart-wrenching emotional trauma to get people to follow Jesus. It seems to me enormously manipulative." -- Susan Bond, associate professor, Vanderbilt University Divinity School, who teaches a course on Jesus in film. She was quoted by United Methodist News Service.

San Francisco pastor's actions likely to test UMC's stance
By Steve Smith, Associate Editor

In what could become a major legal conflict over how church law defines "homosexual union," a United Methodist pastor in San Francisco participated recently in the much-publicized mass of same-sex weddings at city hall and later conducted a ceremony for two men in her church's sanctuary during Sunday worship.

But her bishop in the California-Nevada Annual Conference stopped short of saying that she would bring the Rev. Karen Oliveto up on charges of violating the denomination's Book of Discipline's prohibition against clergy conducting "homosexual union" ceremonies.

Dr. Oliveto, pastor of Bethany United Methodist Church, one of the denomination's original "reconciling congregations," presided over at least eight ceremonies in San Francisco City Hall during a period when the city was issuing marriage licenses to some 2,600 gay and lesbian couples. City officials married five other Bethany UMC couples.

During the morning worship service Feb. 15 at Bethany UMC, where she has served as pastor for 12 years, Dr. Oliveto also officiated at a ceremony for parishioners Dan Johnson and Bill Hinson. She described the ceremony as "the first legal gay marriage to take place inside a United Methodist sanctuary."

"We are in a whole new world, and the church better catch up," Dr. Oliveto told the San Francisco Chronicle.

"The Discipline specifically says 'homosexual union,' but I don't think that's been interpreted in an official way," Bishop Tuell said. "I would describe this as a new question that has come up, and I don't know how it will be addressed."

Bishop Tuell said although the deadline has passed for petitions to the General Conference April 27-May 7 in Pittsburgh, a delegate could attach to a petition an amendment addressing the question of whether "homosexual union" means the same thing as "gay marriage."

'Discipline is silent' But Dr. Oliveto told the Reporter that she found no prohibition in the Discipline specifically against "gay marriage."

"I did not perform a holy union," she said. "I performed a legal gay marriage. I was not disobeying the Discipline. The Discipline is silent on gay, legal marriage.

"I performed legal marriages for members of my congregation who asked me to provide this pastoral service. My congregation would expect nothing less of me. I would not be a faithful pastor in this setting if I refused them."

Bethany UMC has 172 members, half of whom are gay and lesbian, Dr. Oliveto said.

"Dr. Oliveto's playing games with the Discipline will not change that, but it has revealed her lack of covenantal concern for her brothers and sisters in the denomination."  [said Bishop Peter Weaver]

Dr. Oliveto wrote Feb. 12, in her weekly e-mail to parishioners, that the city-hall union of Bethany parishioners Michael Eaton and Sean Higgins was "one of the most moving experiences of my ministry. I have presided over countless holy unions, and have treated them with the same solemnity and respect that I would any straight wedding. But to be able to say the words, 'You are now legally wed' was a powerful thing!"

Dr. Oliveto's participation isn't the first time California-Nevada conference clergy have challenged The United Methodist Church's stance against homosexual practice.

In 1999, during the term of the previous bishop, Melvin G. Talbert, 67 pastors -- dubbed the "Sacramento 67" -- and 700 others participated in a blessing of a lesbian couple. A conference committee dismissed charges against the pastors, and 15 evangelical pastors quit the denomination as a result of the decision. On Jan. 18 at St. Mark's UMC in San Francisco, some of the participants celebrated the ceremony's fifth anniversary, according to Connection, the conference's newspaper.

Bethany UMC was the denomination's fourth "reconciling congregation" 20 years ago. Dr. Oliveto co-chairs the Reconciling Ministries Network, which works toward "full participation of all people" in the UMC. The network includes 192 congregations, 26 campus ministries, 19 other ministries and 17,000 United Methodists.

Iliff seeks questions more than answers
By Susan Valley Barton, Associate Editor

DENVER, Colo. -- Iliff School of Theology, nestled at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, is the only United Methodist -- and the only mainstream Protestant -- seminary between Kansas City and California, between Canada and Mexico.

Iliff's location on the vast prairies of the inland West is what has shaped its outlook, said the Rev. David Maldonado, president. "We're in Colorado. This is not the Bible Belt. You cannot assume a religious culture. And we're dealing with distance and expanse."

Since it is the only mainline seminary in such a large, sparsely-populated geographical area, Iliff's student body is small (300-350 students) and ecumenical, Dr. Maldonado said. About 40 percent of the students are United Methodists; 40 percent are men and 60 percent are women. One-third of Iliff's faculty are people of color, and they represent various traditions and faiths, officials said.

"No one has a monopoly on knowing God. We all have a glimpse of the Divine," he said, "and everybody's glimpse is probably different -- each has a different angle, a different perspective, a different nuance. The more I learn about your glimpse of the Divine, the more I am enriched, so that I can understand my own glimpse of the Divine. Without diminishing my glimpse, or questioning it, I am enriched by yours."

It's not only Iliff's location in the "wild west," and its mix of students, faculty and staff from more than 40 faith traditions that have created its progressive outlook. . . . It's the seminary's history.

This particular United Methodist seminary was founded by a 19th century Methodist bishop who was disturbed by fundamentalism. Henry White Warren, elected bishop of the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1880, was also a scientist and the author of a well-known book on astronomy. With his wife, Elizabeth Iliff Warren, he established the school in 1892 as a graduate theological school of the Methodist Episcopal Church.

At the time Iliff was established, there was deep division in the Methodist church over Charles Darwin's theory of evolution and its implications, Dr. Troeger explained. The founder's response to that controversy was firm: "Warren said, 'we are founding this school to inspire more Darwins,'" said Dr. Troeger [dean of academic affairs and senior vice president].

Dr. Troeger said Iliff's founder "stood against any form of fundamentalism. He believed fundamentalism was an act of disfaith in God, because it took the Bible literally when God was clearly making new revealations through science."

Third-year divinity student Karen Stauffers from the California-Nevada Annual Conference said, "Iliff is not the 'one size fits all' liberal-radical seminary that people make it out to be. There are a variety of theologies and people here, with different ideas about how they approach the Divine, different Christologies, and different politics."

"Iliff kind of relishes the question more than it does the answer," said alumnus the Rev. Paul Kottke, pastor of Denver's University Park UMC and chair of the Rocky Mountain Annual Conference's board of ordination.

That open-ended approach is to be celebrated, Mr. Kottke said, because "out of the questions, the answers will come. If we fear the question, then we pre-set our answers. And I wonder if the church doesn't do that too often. It so fears that if open-ended questions are asked, then the knowledge will collapse."

A student at the seminary in the early 1980s, Mr. Kottke admits that Iliff at that time was weak at helping students reassemble their minds and psyches after being challenged by teachers. The idea then, he said, was that the local churches seminarians attended would help them "put it back together."

In addition to the master of divinity degree and the master of theological studies, Iliff offers master of arts degrees in justice and peace studies, pastoral care and religious leadership. Special programs include Anglican studies, urban ministry studies, and women and religion studies.

FAITHFULLY YOURS: Passion gives all Christians a chance for witness
By Cynthia B. Astle, Editor

With regret, with respect, I have decided not to see Mel Gibson's film, The Passion of the Christ.

. . . I have decided not to see the movie for a simple reason: I don't need to see it.

As a Christian writer and teacher, and especially as a biblical storyteller who has acted the Passion story, I don't need to see Mr. Gibson's interpretation because I'm aware every day of what Jesus endured for my salvation. Humbly, I realize that this makes me more blessed than many people. I believe that it's for these many that Mr. Gibson has made his film; if you wish to see it, by all means, go.

Is the film authentic? Magazine articles have documented The Passion's cinematic licenses. Yet even the Gospel stories of Jesus' Crucifixion and Resurrection disagree, so factual inaccuracies must be allowed.

What matters about The Passion is that Mr. Gibson tells the story of Jesus as he has been touched by it, to everyone who will listen.

The Passion gives all Christians a priceless moment -- what we call a "kairos," or "teachable" moment -- for us to tell the Gospel to others as we have experienced it. Our own faith stories may not be as stunningly presented as Mr. Gibson's, but they will matter just as much, because they are the true stories of our relationship with Christ. God gives each of us the capacity to reach someone who needs to hear The Story, told in our own way, if we stay alert to the possibility.

I believe now is such a time, and The Passion has helped to create the time. For this, Mel Gibson has my appreciation, my respect and my prayers.

HERE I STAND: Tackle money crisis at its spiritual roots
By Thomas C. Rieke

Whether from last summer's annual conferences or United Methodist publications, the story is the same: the church is running out of money.

The retrenchment exercises being implemented are signs that the basic problems of fiscal failings are not being addressed. Cutting back does not solve anything; it merely delays the inevitable.

It is easy to question whether our church really wants to "get well" fiscally. How many congregations, even annual conferences, have to go bankrupt before we get down to the business of relating faith to finances in functional ways?

It can be done. I wonder when the first signs of genuine recovery will begin to surface.

Letters to the Editor

Thinking biblically

In "Christians must think morally about homosexuality," the debate on homosexuality in church leadership is much clearer than the authors have written (see Reporter Interactive, Feb. 11). The writers seem preoccupied with defining homosexuality. They also fail to present what the Bible clearly states about homosexuality and its consequences.

I side with the biblical viewpoint that sin is sin, including homosexuality. God instructs us to turn away from sin, not redefine or candy-coat it. Since we are all sinners, what morally qualifies us to lead, or be ordained, in a church is whether we turn away from our sin.

The fruit reflective of a life walking closely with God is the ultimate moral qualifier for any church leader. "Let's think biblically about homosexuality" would be a more accurate title for this debate.

Cindy Coleman
Longview, Texas

Homosexuality, hospitality

I read Kathy Rudy and Mary McClintock Fulkerson's commentary, "Christians must think morally about homosexuality," after reading Strategic Hospitality by John Piper. Dr. Piper questions why Christians would be interested in hospitality or any morality not related to Christ. He points everything to God, not the morals of hospitality.

The article on homosexuality is basically about whether certain morals qualify us for clergy. While I agree with the statement that "being straight" is no guarantee of a good clergy, there was a definite attempt by the authors to "muddy the waters" regarding God's holiness and we can be as hospitable and generous as the writers commend and allow anyone who is "moral" to become clergy.

But as Dr. Piper points out, "The only ethics and the only morality that have eternal value are ethics and morality that are shaped by God's will, performed by God's power, and aimed at God's glory through Jesus Christ."

We do not do homosexual people, or any person with sinful desires or practices, favors by telling them they're ok. I need to be exhorted to be remade in the image of God. Love me as a sinner, but don't love my sin, church, or you cannot bring glory to God!

Trip Rodgers
Rocky Mount, North Carolina

Bible: final authority?

In the "Point/Counterpoint" columns, Dean Snyder and Leicester Longden missed an opportunity to address a real problem within The United Methodist Church: the lack of respect and authority given to God's holy word, the Bible (see Reporter Interactive, Jan. 21).

Is it or is it not the final authority?

The issue of accepting homosexual clergy and homosexual behavior has been answered in Scripture. The real question is whether the UMC is going to stand for God's Word.

Some claim that homosexuality is not a choice but inborn, and argue that "if God made me that way, how can it be wrong?" The Bible says that we are all born sinners. Jesus accepts sinners, but He also calls us out of our sin, such as the adulteress on whom he had compassion but did not tell her to live the lifestyle of her choosing.

We would all, leadership of the UMC included, be wise to heed God's words written in 2 Timothy 3:16-17: "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work."

Philip E. Davin
Tyler, Texas

The United Methodist Reporter 02/18/04
Digest with Links to Full Articles
For Northern Illinois Conference Laity

War, structure top UM issues
By Steve Smith, Associate Editor

PITTSBURGH -- War, youth ministry, Holy Communion, structure and finances appear likely to top the work of delegates to the 2004 United Methodist General Conference April 27-May 7.

Observers said that they expect traditionalists to take the [General Board of Church and Society] to task for its anti-war stances. In previous conferences, traditionalists have sought unsuccessfully to get delegates to disband the agency--and this year may be no exception.

To cut costs, the General Council on Finance and Administration recommends that delegates slash the number of bishops by one per U.S. jurisdiction, a total of five. If passed, the reduction would reduce the number of bishops elected in July. Fifty bishops serve in the United States; 18 serve in Africa, Europe and Asia.

In addition, other petitions involve the role and duties of bishops. Although no exact numbers were available, Mr. Cropsey said 10 times the number of petitions on bishops were received for the 2004 session than in previous years.

Delegates will consider a proposed $585 million spending plan for the next four years, an increase of 7 percent from 2001-2004. The proposal will come at a time when agencies and local churches have suffered through layoffs and church apportionments are falling short of missions and ministry needs. In addition, delegates face tough decisions on how to pay for new missions programs under the General Board of Global Ministries, which wants to develop 11 new initiatives.

The denomination’s top pension expert said that they face critical decisions on how to deal with the “graying” and unhealthier group of clergy, whose age and health problems are driving up health care costs and diverting money away from mission and ministry.


Letters to the Editor

Nullification trend endangers UMC

The debate between the Rev. Dean Snyder and the Rev. Leceister Longden raises what may be the most divisive issue in The United Methodist Church today (see Reporter, Jan. 23 . . .).

Their debate also reminded me of what was and is one of the most divisive issues in the United States. That issue is known as "nullification."

The idea of nullification surfaced in 1798. U.S. Senator John C. Calhoun, later a vice president, became the most famous advocate of the political philosophy of nullification--the right of the people, or of the states, to nullify any law they believed to be unjust or unfair.

In recent years a small but growing number of United Methodists apparently have become convinced that the clergy have the right to nullify the Constitution, the Articles of Religion and the Book of Discipline of this denomination. Their view reflects the current parallel debate in international law and American legal circles about nullification.

If this is an accurate representation of contemporary reality, the right of nullification once again may turn out to be the road to division--just as Calhoun’s theory of "states’ rights" contributed to the Civil War.

Lyle E. Schaller
Naperville, Illinois

The United Methodist Reporter 02/11/04
Digest with Links to Full Articles
For Northern Illinois Conference Laity

Here I Stand:  Can we accurately view poverty as a weapon?
By Lonnie Brooks

At a news briefing for communicators and first-time delegates to the 2004 General Conference, the Rev. Randy Day, general secretary of the General Board of Global Ministries, as part of a panel on financial stewardship, said, "Poverty is a weapon of mass destruction."

I said during a question-and-answer session, "In my observation and experience a weapon is an instrument of intentional destruction, whereas in most instances poverty is an unintended consequence of a series of decisions intended to cause other results. . . ."

We must remember that there really are some evils in the world for which there is no sin or no one to blame. Not every victim can find somebody to sue.

For Mr. Day to make his metaphor defendable, he must redefine what a weapon is, and such a redefinition is probably not helpful in the search for solutions to the problem of poverty.

Commentary:  Christians must think morally about homosexuality
By Mary McClintock Fulkerson and Kathy Rudy

The ongoing debate about homosexuality in the church--which threatens to divide most mainline American denominations--misses the mark because both sides assume the validity of an unchanging identity called "sexual preference."

One side claims that one identity (heterosexual) is acceptable and the other identity (homosexual) isn't. The other side of the debate claims the church should be inclusive of everyone, including gays.

Both of these positions, we believe, wrongly assume that identity itself can function as a moral qualifier.

The idea that people are born with a sexual preference in the same way that they're born into, say, race or gender is troubling. While some people always have been "straight" and others always have been "gay," many people move in and out of these categories throughout their lives.

Most scholars agree that what we now refer to as "homosexuality" is an identity that emerged around the end of the 18th century.

NEW!   The United Methodist Reporter 02/04/04
Digest with Links to Full Articles
For Northern Illinois Conference Laity

Experts: Attacks on religious freedom intensifying worldwide
By Ken Walker, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON -- The list of suffering reads like Hebrews 11:32-39: churches seized, people dragged from meetings and beaten to death, seeing their homes destroyed, or being arrested for carrying Bibles.

David Miller, managing editor of Compass Direct in Santa Ana, Calif., said atrocities often don't involve mass numbers of victims and fail to generate headlines.

"There's very little interest in the mainline press," Mr. Miller said. "People don't want to read about it, but it's happening, and people need to read about it."

Observers urged Americans to participate in intercessory prayer vigils and make such praying integral parts of their ongoing worship services.

Believers also can assist such organizations as Open Doors, Christian Solidarity and Voice of the Martyrs, which help persecuted Christians and families by providing Bibles, training and supplies, he added.

A major issue is the role the United States should play in advancing religious freedom in Afghanistan and Iraq as it helps rebuild those nations, she added.

"The big issue in 2004 is the new paradigm the U.S. is creating in Iraq. Whatever we do there, whatever we leave, is going to affect the entire Islamic world," Ms. Shea said.

Bishop's election clouds Methodist-Episcopal talks
By Steve Smith, Associate Editor

Most United Methodist traditionalists want no ecumenical connection with a Christian denomination that strays from biblical prohibitions against homosexual practice, . . . The Rev. William Abraham, a professor of Wesley studies at United Methodist-related Perkins School of Theology, said Jan. 16 that situations like last year's ordination of New Hampshire Episcopal Bishop V. Gene Robinson, who is living in a committed relationship with a man, weakens the prospects of church unity.

"Many evangelicals would be fully prepared to form whole new bodies rather than compromise their positions on sexuality," said Dr. Abraham, a leader in the Confessing Movement, an unofficial caucus pressing for doctrinal purity. "Truth, as represented by scriptural authority, takes precedence over unity."

Three days after the Methodist-Anglican talks at Perkins, more than 100 evangelical Episcopalian bishops, pastors, missionaries and theologians from 12 dioceses gathered behind closed doors at a suburban Dallas church to form a group to protest last summer's ordination of Bishop Robinson.

The action is being watched closely by United Methodists who fret that the Episcopalians' action, coupled with recent gay-friendly court decisions, will provide momentum for the General Board of Church and Society proposal to change the denomination's prohibition against ordaining "self-avowed, practicing" homosexual people.

Bishop Duncan said homosexual people are welcome in the Episcopal Church, but should not act on their sexual inclinations.

"We treat homosexuality no different than heterosexuality," he said. "The question for Christians is whether we are prepared to live a holy life or act out a relationship that is apart from the one that is God's design -- and that is chastity in singleness and faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman."

Since the Robinson election, Roman Catholics and Orthodox leaders in Russia, Syria and Armenia have postponed ecumenical dialogue with Episcopalians.

Christian pollster George Barna sees Church's future in trends
Baptist Press

Dr. Barna leads the Barna Research Group, a marketing research company in Ventura, Calif., that specializes in Christian ministries, churches and nonprofit organizations.

A new Barna study, for example, indicates that The United Methodist Church's $20 million advertising campaign, Igniting Ministry, has increased public awareness of the denomination and first-time church attendance, United Methodist News Service reported.

SBC LIFE, the journal of the Southern Baptist Convention, interviewed Dr. Barna recently. Here are some excerpts:

SBC LIFE: What would you say are the five most significant changes, trends or shifts you have observed?

Dr. Barna: Certainly, one of them would be the decline in biblical literacy. Fewer and fewer people have any clue what Scripture really teaches, as opposed to what they feel it should teach.

Secondly would be an increased emphasis on mega-churches and corresponding stress on the importance of numbers rather than upon the transformation of lives.

The third change would be the rise and importance of the para-church ministry and how much of what churches traditionally used to do now has been taken over by para-church ministries.

The fourth would probably be increased negativity of the mass media toward Christianity -- that's a huge one.

Finally is church members' increased reliance upon clergy, rather than laity, to get ministry done.

NEW!   Royal Speidel Named
Distinguished Evangelist in Residence

The Rev. Royal Speidel, a retired pastor (since 2001) from the Northern Illinois Annual Conference, has been named Distinguished Evangelist in Residence for the General Board of Discipleship, effective January 1, 2004.

The Distinguished Evangelist in Residence is funded by the Foundation for Evangelism, an affiliate of the General Board of Discipleship, that seeks to lift up the ministries of evangelism in the church around the world.

As Distinguished Evangelist in Residence, Royal will offer seminars, training, resources, and support to assist conference leaders and congregations in areas of evangelism, congregational revitalization, and congregational development. He will also be working with the evangelism staff of the General Board of Discipleship to develop a comprehensive evangelism strategy for The United Methodist Church.   Read More 

NEW!   The United Methodist Reporter
Digest with Links to Full Articles
For Northern Illinois Conference Laity

By Harold Darling

By my calculations . . . the current cost per bishop is $250,000 per year.  . . . the General Council on Finance and Administration is asking for a 20 percent increase in the Episcopal Fund.

Bishops came into the clergy as itinerant pastors serving a local church. Now it seems we have a structure that rewards as the secular world rewards. You may say, "Workers for God deserve their pay." I respond, "Yes, pay, but not a penthouse with a view."

Letters to the Editor

Moving to theocracy

I think the separation of church and state is important for two reasons. The most obvious is that without it, the more it erodes, the closer we move to theocracy.

The second can be summed up in an illustration: If you're allowed to display the Ten Commandments in school or the court house, then why don't we have the HIPAA laws flanking the crucifix in church?

How about all overflow drug possession and DUI trials be held in between Sunday school classes? Should I pay my electric bill at the church bursar's office or in the offertory?

I think Judge Alfred T. Goodwin of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said it best when the court ruled the Pledge of Allegience is unconstitutional: "A profession that we are a nation 'under God' is identical, for Establishment Clause purposes, to a profession that we are a nation 'under Jesus,' a nation 'under Vishnu,' a nation 'under Zeus,' or a nation 'under no god,' because none of these professions can be neutral with respect to religion."

So: Would it be okay if the law said that it must be "under Allah"?

Phil Peterson
Houston, Texas

Preach Bible, not beliefs

The article about Perkins School of Theology makes me realize why the United Methodists are losing members (see Reporter Interactive, Oct. 29). The article stated that systematic theology courses are taught by two professors, each espousing different and often conflicting theological approaches.

One pastor said this was what she liked about Perkins. This way she could form her own beliefs. In another article, the Rev. Jeff Proctor Murphy blasted the Judicial Council ruling on the lesbian pastor in Seattle. He said she was open with her superiors and shouldn't be punished.

I hope and pray that our church leaders will do something positive to revive our church and educate the young ministers to preach the Bible and not their own beliefs.

Paul Epley
Hohenwald, Tennessee

COMMENTARY:  Defending marriage in today's society

By David C. Steinmetz

When asked for her reaction to the decision of the Massachusetts Supreme Court authorizing same-sex marriage, United Methodist Bishop Susan Hassinger (Boston Area) responded that it was "a civil matter, not a religious matter." By which the bishop meant that the decision of society to sanction same-sex civil marriages did not mean that clergy in Massachusetts were under any obligation to bless them.

Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches have already made clear their opposition to same-sex unions and it seems unlikely that Orthodox Jews or Moslems will take a different line. Conservative Protestant churches like the Southern Baptists and Pentecostals also oppose in principle same-sex marriages.

Among more liberal churches the report is mixed. The Unitarian-Universalists and the United Church of Christ already bless same-sex unions and are likely to perform same-sex marriages, if sanctioned by law. The Episcopal Church may follow suit. Other mainline churches like Bishop Hassinger's United Methodists will not.

However the civil and religious debates over gay marriage are finally resolved -- and they may be resolved quite differently in church and state -- citizens who want to defend marriage need to reflect carefully on what they are doing. Constitutional amendments are not going to save marriage as long as the fundamental commitments that make it work are missing from our society.

Letters to the Editor

Conservatives can be Christians, too, irate reader says

In the Nov. 21 issue of the Reporter, Bishop Felton May (Washington, D.C., Area) states, "Compassionate conservative doesn't hold water" and is an "oxymoron."

How dare the bishop just make a "decree" that a person cannot be a conservative and still be compassionate. The United Methodist Church has a lot of compassionate, conservative Christians who probably feel that this kind of negative political language just serves to drive United Methodists apart, not bring us together. So why include that one paragraph in an otherwise informative and well balanced article?

Gary McCoy
Carrollton, Texas