I have not always been United Methodist. Born to a Southern Baptist father and Presbyterian mother, my parents decided to raise my brother and I in a “non-denominational” denomination.
I have many pleasant memories of my childhood church: the amazing music productions, the humorous skits produced by the pastors, the engaging Vacation Bible Schools, and the joy of opening a new sanctuary. I don’t, however, have many memories of Sunday School. My family rarely arrived in time for it, so my attendance was sporadic. One Sunday School session, however, does stand out among all others in my life.
I was an older elementary student when the Sunday School teacher presented material about Genesis 2 and creation. The pictures in the curriculum awakened the immature pre-teen in me. I imagined what it would feel like to have fig leaves for underwear or to marry a clone made from my own rib or even my own sister. With little distance between my head and my mouth, I made a joke in poor taste, bringing laughter to the boys in the room and anger to the teacher. The woman, whose face and name I cannot remember, stopped the class, and asked me to sit outside. Outside, she told me the class was going to convene a “Kangaroo Court.” I had no idea what this meant and wondered if it was related to Captain Kangaroo.
The door closed, and I waited outside, uncertain if I would be let back inside or carried off to be belt-whipped by my father. Moments later, the door opened, and I was asked back inside. Before I could sit, however, the teacher informed me that the court made up of the other children there, had reached a verdict. I was to be permanently removed from the class.
The next time I attended Sunday School, I was leading it inside a UMC church as a college student, happy to find a church without Kangaroo Courts. Happy until now.
Today, throughout my annual conference, local churches are convening Kangaroo Courts. Recent GMC mailings urge that these be held in every church, giving the true believers the chance to decide whether to disaffiliate from the UMC before the deadline arrives.
This disaffiliation is not about individual religious freedom. UMC members are always free to leave, just as members of other denominations are free to join. Religious affiliation is voluntary. This disaffiliation is about identity, power, and control of local church property. It is about financial assets and the relationship of a local church to the UMC.
Representatives of the true owner of local church property, the Rio Texas Conference, have asked congregations with leaders who want to join the GMC to follow a “discernment process” prior to taking a vote on whether to remain or leave.
On the surface, such a process seems wise. It appeals to patience and reflection. It calls for prayer to seek divine guidance. It allows for UMC official supervision, transparency, accountability, and the opportunity for a defense of the UMC and appeal to remain. It will give more legitimacy to any decision taken. Tactically, the process hopes that a waiting period will allow the better angels of pragmatism time to convince the church to consider the administrative cost of leaving and choose continuity and convenience over conscience.
This was a tactical error. Were it not an error, the GMC would not be promoting this process for every congregation in Rio Texas. Were it not an error, the GMC would not be recommending the approach of the Rio Texas Conference for every annual conference.
The grievances of the GMC are not pragmatic. They are radical and eschatological. Their letter makes this clear. Their concern is over Christian legitimacy, identity, theology, interpretation, and morality. They are not satisfied with their own religious freedom within a pluralistic church. They are scandalized over differences that are “not just over human sexuality.”
Consequently, what will take place under this process is not discernment, but a trial. Each congregation in this process will be putting the entire UMC on trial.
The questions for this trial will be simple:
1. Is the UMC Christian?
2. Are UMC clergy Christian?
3. Are your fellow UMC church members Christian?
Perhaps you have encountered these questions before. Perhaps you asked them of yourself. John Wesley struggled with similar doubts prior to his Aldersgate experience of assurance.
These are also the questions raised by every exclusive Christian sect that seeks to recruit, receive, re-educate, and re-baptize members of the United Methodist Church. These are the questions of the people on the bikes, at the bus-stations and laundromats, on your front porch and on campus asking you, “If you were to die tonight, would God let you into heaven? Why?” These are the questions raised by members of my childhood church who told my mother I had “joined a cult” when I entered UMC ministry. These are the questions of legitimacy, of status, and of power. Together with the other sectarian movements, the GMC has the answers.
1. Is the United Methodist Church Christian?
GMC propaganda charges that the UMC is irreparably corrupt and will become more apostate after conservatives leave. After its “amicable” separation, the GMC has no intention to remain in full communion with the UMC. In the eyes of the GMC, the UMC falsely claims to be Christian, gives parishioners false hope, teaches lies, spreads vice and corruption, and enables evil.
2. Are United Methodist Clergy Christian?
Within the UMC, pastors are appointed, not locally hired. Undermining such clergy is a disciplinary offense, yet the disaffiliation process may be initiated without the consent of the appointed minister. By ruling on the legitimacy of all UMC clergy, the Kangaroo Courts will also rule on their appointed ministers. Is our pastor faithful and loyal servant of Jesus Christ, of loyal the UMC and Satan?
3. Are our fellow United Methodists Christian?
The Kangaroo Courts will place the Christian identity of all UMC church members on trial, not just the gay children, siblings, and other relatives in the church family. According to the GMC, the great “sexodus” is not just about sex. There is a heresy iceberg. As the trial proceeds, this iceberg will be exposed.
Can someone be Christian and a liberal democrat? Can someone be Christian and support immigrant rights, gay rights, abortion rights? Can someone be Christian and read banned books, teach critical race theory, and respect other world religions? Can someone be a Christian and want everyone to have healthcare? Can someone be a Christian and oppose the death penalty and firearms proliferation? Can someone be a Christian and believe in climate change, evolution, vaccines, and masks? Can someone be a Christian and oppose impunity for police brutality? Can someone be a Christian and not support Israel? Can someone be a Christian and seek to change official church policy or practice civil disobedience against it? Can someone be a Christian and support fair process and appointment security for ordained clergy? Can someone be a Christian and believe that Trump really did lose the 2020 presidential election?
As each trial drags on, the iceberg will grow, larger and larger, illustrating the great chasm that has been placed between the redeemed and the damned.
Then comes the vote. Stay or leave? If 2/3 choose to leave, the property changes hands, and the GMC gains one more real-estate asset for a penny cost.
Whether the vote to leave is 2/3 or only 1 person, the process will have enabled GMC agitators access to anathematize UMC faithful inside their own churches. All who are being rejected will go home having felt the wrath of the Kangaroo Court.
Who will constitute the Kangaroo Court?
So who will constitute these Kangaroo Courts? The Courts will involve all who are present, including many of the following:
- People who have divorced and remarried (Mt 5:32-32)
- People who don’t beat their children (Proverbs 13:24)
- People with tattoos (Leviticus 19:38)
- People in inter-racial marriages (Deuteronomy 7:3-4)
- People with physical deformities and disabilities (Leviticus 21:16-34)
- People who do not attend church every Sunday (Exodus 20:8-11)
- Rape victims who would never marry their rapists (Deuteronomy 22:28-29)
- People who do not tithe (Malachi 3:10)
- People who want to “Build the Wall” (Matthew 25:41-46)
- Women who were not virgins when they married (Deuteronomy 22:20-21)
- People who own and stockpile weapons (Matthew 26:52)
- People who have declared bankruptcy (Psalm 37:21)
- People whose eyes may have wandered on the Internet (Matthew 18:9)
And those are just the normal people!
Mixed into the jury, of course, will be the proud GMC infiltrators who have spread misinformation about the UMC seeking to divide it. (Proverbs 6:6-19)
These Kangaroo Courts now stand in judgment over the UMC, UMC clergy, and UMC members in numerous churches, with hopes for more.
By the end of it, we will all miss Captain Kangaroo.