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Dateline: August 1, 1999

by Rev. Kent L. Svendsen

The scene opens at the 1999 Northern Illinois Annual Conference which is held in Dekalb, Illinois. A pastor rises to the microphone and offers a resolution to the conference. It was reported that evidence had been unearthed of bigotry and prejudice at a local campground and a request was made that an investigation team be sent in to confirm that conclusion and take decisive action to confront and correct the problem.

Evidently a gay couple with an adopted child had rented a cottage at the site last year. It wasn't the first time someone with same gender attractions had done such a thing. It is the general policy of the campground to live and let live. The goal of the campground is to simply provide a place for United Methodists (rental and ownership of cottages is limited to 10% or less for other denominations according to the by-laws) to share the beauty of God's creation in peace with one another. However, that peace was broken when angry confrontations broke out and the campground turned into a political battlefield because the gay couple decided that the campground would be a good place to promote the reconciling cause. Many of the other details have been printed in the UMLR (The United Methodist Liberal Reporter) but one needs to look beyond the reconciling rhetoric and the liberal spin they put on the story in order to see the picture more accurately.

So off goes the Board of Church and Society to do their job of "investigating allegations" of discrimination "in violation of the United Methodist Church's social principles". (UM[L]R; dated July 2, 1999)

Did they follow biblical mandates to go to their bothers and sisters privately in love and try to be reconciled with them? I guess that all depends on what you call private. A couple of meetings were called, but campground officials didn't attend because of the media circus surrounding them. Evidently the story had been given to the secular press and the accusations made public before any investigation could be done to determine if the accusations had any merit or not. According to a reliable source, the "mediation session" involved having several TV news trucks, many members of the press, and a group of protesters present at the front gate on the day of the meeting. On the day of one of the meetings, because of a threatened protest march of which campground leadership were told that 500 demonstrators would be at the front gate, the campground closed off the gate and put security guards on it in order to protect the children in the day care groups which used the campgrounds.

So what happens next? What new step does the conference take in order to show God's compassion and love in this trying situation. Well, the trustees of the campground have an annual meeting each year in which they elects members of the board. So what does the Northern Illinois Conference leadership do to further the cause of loving reconciliation? They send out a FAX blast to every church in the conference asking churches to send representatives to the meeting as voters to nominate and vote into office members of their choosing. Does any of this sound like a corporate hostile take over to you? It sure does to me. Does any of this sound like a military action designed to defeat and humiliate the enemy rather than an act of loving reconciliation? It would probably have worked too and reconciling churches would have flooded the meeting and voted in their candidates and taken over the campground. But luckily, according to the by-laws, churches can't simply send voters to the meeting. A potential voter has to be nominated and elected at their annual charge conference in their church before they even become eligible. Opps, I guess they tried to go for the throat a little prematurely.

This example of abuse and oppression should be a good lesson for all evangelicals. This clearly ends the myth that what is wanted is for us to all just to get along. Because that is the farthest thing from the truth and something we should let go in one ear and out the other. The lesson we should learn from these events is that the goal here is to win for your side and do it in any "legal" way you can regardless of who it hurts and the damage it does. In this case, the scent of discrimination was released in the air and like a feeding frenzy the sharks began to circle the campground smelling an opportunity for a fresh kill. Here was a good excuse to conquer new territory and new enemies to vanquish. (It should also be noted that the conference already had their eye on the campground as a possible location to build a new conference office and is considering such an option.)

But you know, this doesn't really surprise me that much. After all, it seems like next logical step to take after the taste of victory that was had at annual conference. It was there that evangelicals were slapped in the face and humiliated with the election of Greg Dell as a delegate to general conference. Add this to the fact that just about the entire slate of MSFA was elected and practically the entire slate of evangelicals were shut out and you have a good picture of what is happening. They are on a crusade to vanquish and eliminate their foes in the name of justice. I guess they subscribe to the just war theory and feel it applies to anyone who would resist their cause.

A one way street has been created in which evangelicals within the Northern Illinois Conference find themselves going the wrong way and in peril. We have become the intolerant and intolerance can not, no, must not be tolerated. It is an evil to be removed from our midst. The old definition of tolerance was an attitude that everyone has a right to their own opinion. I can think that your wrong and disagree with you. So what is the new definition? "This new tolerance considers every individual's beliefs, values, lifestyle and truth claims as equally valid. So not only does everyone have an equal right to (their) beliefs, but all beliefs are equal. The new tolerance goes beyond respecting a person's rights; it demands praise and endorsement of that person's beliefs, values, and lifestyle." (Focus On The Family Magazine, August 1999)

I believe that we have been done a great favor by these actions. It will make the very difficult job of requiring doctrinal integrity of our leaders and adherence to the Book Of Discipline much easier for us to do. For we can now see clearly that if given the chance and the support of the Book Of Discipline, those with whom we disagree are more than willing to take strong actions to discipline anyone who breaks the rules. There were many who advocated that Rev. Greg Dell simply be allowed to break the rules and continue untouched by our discipline and order. They tell us that the Book Of Discipline is just suggestive and not to be used against those who think and believe differently. Do you suppose these same individuals were offering that same type of support to the Des Plaines Campground in this situation? Somehow I doubt it.

Let's wake up friends, we must stop pretending that if we just ignore the whole thing, that it will just go away.

Rev. Kent L. Svendsen Northern Illinois Conference Coordinator Confessing Movement Within The UMC