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December 23, 1998  An E-mail Dialogue with the Reverend Fred Phelps

This exchange of letters began with an e-mail letter that was sent to Reverend Fred Phelps by Rev. Kent L. Svendsen who is the Northern Illinois Coordinator for the Confessing Movement Within the United Methodist Church. It was written in response to the November 22nd picketing of the Broadway United Methodist Church in Chicago, Illinois, by Rev. Phelps and members of his church. [continued]

December 13, 1998 Northern Illinois Conference Evangelical Association Forms to Deal with Denominational Issues

Rev. Kent L. Svendsen, Reporting
Nothern Illinois Conference Coordinator
Confessing Movement Within The United Methodist Church

On December 12th, 1998, approximately twenty evangelical pastors and laity met to discuss concerns they had over important issues confronting our denomination. Many others called to offer their support and to express their regrets for not being able to attend. The group chose as a name for itself the Northern Illinois Conference Evangelical Association.

The group set out to work in two different areas. One team worked on the development of a platform which could be used to express their views on various issues and as a tool to educate others on the issues that our denomination faces. The second team discussed the election of delegates to general conference and ways to educate the voters and promote evangelical candidates.

I attended the first group which discussed platform issues. Those issues included topics such as:

  1. Organizational flexibility within the annual conference to promote mission development;
  2. Support and encouragement of the National Hispanic Plan;
  3. Addressing the subject of human sexuality;
  4. Resistance to the effort to separate the United States conferences from those of the world church and thereby weaking our evangelical voice;
  5. The utilitzation of funds by the General Board of Global Ministries;
  6. Requirements of church membership; and
  7. The relationship of the seminaries to the local church and their need for doctrinal accountablity.

Of special interest was one report received concerning the General Board of Global Ministries and their recent activities. It was reported that at present their unrestricted funds total 169 million dollars. That figure is higher than many had thought. According to the organizational rules they are allowed to hold 25% of their total assets in reserve. Recent efforts to bring accountablility to the board have resulted in attempts to lower that figure to 15%. It would seem that criticism is growing even among moderates concerning the possible misuse of funds by the board. In response to this move, the board is deciding to move 30 million dollars into the missionary pention program, 9 million dollars into the millennium fund (for new program development), and 24 million dollars into the Missionary HOPE fund (designed to increase our number of missionaries to over 600 within the next few years).

In other words, they are putting the money into restricted funds to lower their unrestricted reserves. This suggests that the "restricted fund excuse" used in the past to justify the huge sums of money they have on reserve is nothing more than a cover up for the fact that they are hording funds that should be used for missionary outreach. This writer almost choked when it was reported that 24 million dollars was going to be used to increase the number of missionaries. Our number of missionaries has been on the decline for many years and now all of a sudden they are going to change all of that. Just what have they been doing all these years? Additionally, just what type of missionaries are they going to create. Many of today's missionary sites are nothing more than glorified first aid stations and classrooms for agriculture and crafts. While such things are badly needed around the world, what is also needed are missionaries who's primary purpose is to win people to faith in Jesus Christ. Some of those in the mission field today seem more interested in local politics then in individual souls. The real question is: What is the primary goal of mission work as seen by the General Board of Global Ministries? Are any of the mission workers every asked to report on the number of confessions of faith that have been received because of their work? Not that we should be in a numbers game, but wouldn't it be a nice thing to know and celebrate? Shouldn't that be the primary reason for sending missionaries to the field?

Especially disturbing was a report that money donated for Africa University was being held by the board and not distributed to the university. One reason for that might be the fact that if the board holds onto the money, they can get interest from investing it. However, that interest money doesn't go to Africa University. Would you like to guess who it goes to? You got it, it goes to the General Board of Global Ministry! One suggestion I made at that meeting would be for actions to be taken at the next general conference to force the GBGM to give back money to the annual conferences for use in the Volunteer In Mission programs. As a pastor, I am leading a VIM mission team to Panama this January and plan to develop and eventually establish a permanent mission site. If the GBGM can't seem to get the job done, give the conferences the money and we will!

Viva The United Methodist Reformation

For more information on practical things individuals and small groups can do to build up the church and bring renewal, check out our Northern Illinois Conference Association web site at:

December 8, 1998 - Dell Trial Prosecutor Chosen
Bishop Sprague Applies Naming Decision to Local Churches

Rev. Kent L. Svendsen
Northern Illinois Conference Coordinator
Confessing Movement Within the United Methodist Church

The church trial of Rev. Greg Dell who performed a same-sex ceremony if violation of the recent Judicial Council ruling will most likely be taking place in January of 1999. The Counsel For The Church (prosecuting Elder) has been chosen after an exhaustive search. Understandably, the bishop had great difficulty in finding someone willing to take on that important role in the trial. The reasons are many, but on the minds of many evangelicals was this question: What effect would taking this job have on my relationship with the Northern Illinois conference? After all, until the recent judicial ruling, the conference was Reconciling and most of the leadership seem to be in support of that position. This is especially true of Bishop C. Joseph Sprague, who uses his position of authority to constantly promote the Reconciling cause and finds it necessary to place a disclaimer on most decisions regarding enforcement of the discipline in matters of this nature.

On another matter related to this issue I have the following to report. At a Special Session of conference held in Rockford, Illinois, (November 14, 1998) Bishop Sprague gave a written decision in response to written requests concerning the Judicial Councils recent ruling on Confessing and Reconciling conferences. In that decision he stated that “Under Decision No. 828, a local church is expressly considered to be among the official bodies of the Church....” (It is my understanding that this decision must be reviewed by the Judicial Council.) This creates an interesting situation. Since Decision No. 828 specifically declares that their ruling is applied to any “official church body” that would mean that local churches also can no longer identify themselves with an “unofficial body or movement”. However, the impact this decision may have on local churches is questionable.

At that same gathering in Rockford and in that same document presented to the entire session, the bishop also made the suggestion that “the Reconciling Task Force be renamed and reconstituted as a Task Force on Human Sexuality with expanded membership representative of diverse points of view....” I immediately wrote to The Reconciling Task Force offering to serve if they decided to take the bishop’s advise. As a trained Christian Counselor and a Transforming pastor, I thought that my perspective could help the group create a more inclusive ministry. Their response: “We have discussed this at length and feel that our work of ministry with and to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered persons and their families, churches and communities would not be as focused or effective within the context of a more general Task Force on Human Sexuality.” In all honestly, I was not surprised at their response, since they are very dogmatic on the belief that change is not possible. I have overcome my homophobia, but they will have to overcome their metamorphobia (The fear that sexual orientation can be changed.) before there is ever any hope that common ground can be found.

November 19, 1998 - The Northern Illinois Conference Battle Field"

Rev. Kent Svendsen NIC Coordinator CM within the UMC

Just reporting in on a meeting in Aurora, Illinois of evangelicals to discuss future NIC plans. We talked about the evangelical forum held in Indianapolis and those present. We decided that we must reach out and educate the delegates to annual conference. Plans are being made to gather a slate of candidates to represent Asian, Hispanic, Black, and white evangelicals. We discussed inviting Joy Moore to come and speak at a rally within our conference in the Spring. Next meeting is at Faith UMC in Downers Grove at 1 PM. Bring you lay delegate to annual conference or other laity with you. It is a Saturday. Also we talked about opening up some of the media to more evangelical viewpoints, especially within our conference. Their reporting does not allow for counter points representing the evangelical view.

Trial of Rev. Dell should be in January. Rev. Larry Pickins is defending Dell and a yet to be announced Elder will be prosecuting. The next few months will be time of investigating and preparing briefs. If anyone out there has anything that can be useful for the prosecution pass it along and I will forward to person went appointed.

November 9, 1998  Northern Illinois Conference

The Northern Illinois Conference is preparing for the possibility of a church trial taking place. Recently charges were made against the Reverend Gregory Dell for performing a same-sex ceremony in defiance of the recent Judicial Council ruling. That ruling stated that the Social Principle statement banning same-sex commitment services was in fact church law and enforceable. This is the case even though the Social Principles are understood by many as guiding principles rather than church law. According to the November 6th edition of the United Methodist Reporter (Northern Illinois Conference) Dell has admitted that "he has conducted services of holy union for same-gendered couples for nearly 30 years." The outcome of this trial is anything but sure and there are several important factors that play into the scenario:

  1. Rev. Dell serves in the Northern Illinois conference which identifies itself as a Reconciling Conference. (The Reconciling program supports dropping the ban on same-sex marriages.) It is from that conference that ordained Elders will be selected if and when a jury is formed. (Note: A recent Judicial Council ruling banned all "official Church Organizations", specifically conferences, from taking on such designations as Reconciling, Transforming, Confessing, etc.)

  2. C. Joseph Sprague, the Northern Illinois Conference Bishop reluctantly filed charges against Rev. Dell. However, Bishop Sprague is very supportive of Rev. Dell and reliable sources indicate that in his career as church pastor he too has performed such ceremonies. The Bishop has used his front page editorial privileges in the NIC United Methodist Reporter as a platform to promote the Reconciling agenda. In the most recent edition he indirectly confronted the transforming movement (a ministry designed to help individuals leave the lifestyle). While not specifically naming then, he indirectly talked about their movement. He did this by suggesting their work to change sexual orientation is equivalent to trying to make a left handed person covert to being right handed. The suggestion being that if we can overcome that prejudice then we can overcome this one too.

  3. There are many questions now being raised concerning a letter which was sent to all the bishops some months ago. The letter was purposely designed to undermine the judicial process of the church as regards this issue. In that letter, the bishops were urged to hand pick individuals sympathetic to the Reconciling cause in cases such as the one concerning Rev. Dell. Since nine of thirteen are needed to convict and not just a simple majority, this could prevent Rev. Dell from being convicted even if found guilty. That was exactly what happened in the case against Rev. Creech who now continues to publicly call for direct disobedience of the church law. This is in fact a case of attempted jury tampering in which the guilty party will be acquitted because of jury nullification. Two words come to mine, deception and dishonesty.

  4. An additional factor is the question of resolve. This type of denominational struggle is life draining and mentally exhausting. Does the church have the resolve to police itself and to discipline its own members. Historically the church has been repeatedly more permissive in what it will allow. At what point do we say that enough is enough? Is this just another prejudice that needs to be overcome such as prejudices against people of color or women in the ministry? Or is this just a further compromise of our moral ethics such as our silence on issues concerning premarital sex and cohabitation. Are we now so far gone that we determine moral right and wrong according to popular opinion? All of these questions factor into whether or not we have the resolve to take action.

  5. The "seventy" factor is also very important. It is reported that: 13% are actively in support working for the reconciling cause 17% are actively working against the reconciling cause 70% are either undecided, confused & silent, or afraid to take sides. I imagine that some of those seventy who are laity (other than clergy) within that category don't even know that this debate is raging. The people who are working against the reconciling cause for the most part are brave individuals who are taking biblical stands. Organizations like the Confessing Movement are growing, but the reconciling cause has a big head start. The Reconciling Congregations program has been growing and expanding for many years. They now have in place paid program staff, recognition and funding from selected annual conferences, political lobbyists, college campus outreach programs, and even a Sunday School curriculum. Plus they have the added advantage of a society that is post-Christian and for the most part biblically ignorant. There is also growing persecution against Christians who oppose the reconciling agenda. Having the transforming attitude and being public about it is enough to find yourself labeled as ignorant, bigoted, prejudice, and someone who promotes violence against gays and lesbians. The newest catch phrase says it all: "The only thing I am intolerant of is intolerance!" If you can be labeled as intolerance, and people who support the transforming position are often considered that by their opponents, then that makes you fair game for attack and criticism. In fact, for them it is justice and righteousness if you are defeated. Bishop Sprague is right when he stated that "a lot will depend on the seventy".

Rev. Kent L. Svendsen
Northern Illinois Coordinator
Confessing Movement Within the United Methodist Church

October 29, 1998 - Northern Illinois Conference

At our bible study last night we had an in-depth discussion of what is happening within our denomination. On Tuesday there was a day on the district which a laity session and a clergy session presided over by our own Bishop Sprague. The subject of the upcoming trial of Rev. Greg Dell for performing a same-sex commitment service was the main topic of conversation. At our bible study I shared what happened at the clergy session and my lay leader shared what happened at the laity session. It is not surprising that the two sessions were quite different. In the laity session it was reported that those present were told that the acceptance of homosexuality was inevitable. That just like the civil rights movement of the sixties, sooner or later the prejudice and discrimination would decline and we would welcome the homosexual. In a real nice way he basically told those who support scriptural authority that they were racist, bigoted, and ignorant.

Here is part of what I shared with my study group.

With the momentum of the Confessing Movement gaining ground so quickly, the Reconciling Movement had to do something to publicly challenge us. If something isn't done to damage the cause of the Confessing Movement, general conference 2000 could bring even stronger measures designed to reform the denomination and hold its leadership accountable to scriptural authority.

My theory is this. The actions of Rev. Dell and those of a group of clergy in California who recently announced that they will soon do the same thing are part of a planned operation. They hope to openly defy the judicial decision believing that as a denomination we do not have the will to enforce the ruling. There cause is given better odds of being successful because they have chosen conferences in which the bishops are sympathetic to their cause and because of a letter sent to all the bishops. In that letter they are asked to purposely pick jurors sympathetic to the Reconciling Congregations agenda in order to accomplish the same jury nullification that took place with Rev. Creech. According to my lay leader, when Bishop Sprague was asked if he was planning to do that with this case he "hung his head and did not reply". Perhaps he did not hear the question. Perhaps he should be asked it again.

In the discussions that took place that day Bishop Sprague discussed what he called the 70% factor. According to studies (and believe me they have studied this out well) there are presently 17% supporting scriptural authority concerning homosexuality, 13% who support the Reconciling Congregations stand on the issue, and 70% who are undecided. They are trying to better their odds of success. This public move to openly defy the discipline will result in more Confessing Movement supporters both clergy and laity leaving the denomination. You know that it will happen. I personally know several who have already departed. They are trying to better their odds by reducing the 17% through attrition.

The results of these trials are calculated to bring a measure of success no matter what the outcome. They have purposes chosen clergy who are leaders of churches which unlike the Omaha church will welcome their pastors back with a heroes reception if they are acquitted through jury nullification. If they are convicted, then they are a martyr for the cause and will become heroes for their willingness to sacrifice. This will only be countered by individuals who are willing to be prophetic and have the same dedication to scriptural authority and be willing to sacrifice for the purpose of righteousness.

Rev. Kent L. Svendsen Confessing Movement Coordinator of the Northern Illinois Conference