Dear Leaders of the North American Free Methodist Church,
In 2008 I discovered why I loved being a Free Methodist – our history of social justice. Namely living out Galatians 3:28. “In Christ’s family there can be no division into Jew and non-Jew, slave and free, male and female. Among us you are all equal. That is, we are all in a common relationship with Jesus Christ. Also, since you are Christ’s family, then you are Abraham’s famous “descendant,” heirs according to the covenant promises.”(The Message)
I grew up in the Free Methodist Church, but I had no idea that a theology of Biblical equality was a part of my own faith tradition. As a doctoral student (and now a college professor and scholar who researches the Christian patriarchy movement) in 2011 I was desperately searching for a place in Christian culture that was not generically evangelical. I was and still am passionate about environmental stewardship, the global church, poverty, urban issues, and women in church leadership. I found all that in B.T. Robert’s Ordaining Women and Fisher’s of Men and in the writings of other early leaders in the early history of the denomination – many of whom I have written about on this blog.
I was beyond excited to attend the 2011 General Conference at Roberts Wesleyan College. Finally! I would meet other Free Methodists from around the world and the United States. I was brought to tears by the poor conditions of a hospital in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and by the Free Methodist missionaries who shared pictures of the bare shelves and limited medical equipment the hospital had. Pearce Memorial Free Methodist, next door to Roberts Wesleyan, was transformed into a missions fair and bazaar for fair trade booths. I spent hours talking to missionaries, and hearing stories about the international Free Methodist Church. I met bishops from Africa and Asia. I experienced the global body of Christ and connected with historic Free Methodism in an incredibly, life changing way.
I cannot begin to express the incredible heartache and outrage I have felt since fall when I discovered the 2015 General Conference is being held at resort in Orlando, Florida. In 2011 when it was announced that General Conference would be in Florida I was excited. I saw it as a chance to connect with our Latino brothers and sisters, and I expected us to rent a university campus, like the denomination has previously done for the large International Youth Conference events (IYC). We have always chosen simple, unostentatious locations that reflect our commitment to simplicity.
The cost for the General Conference this year, in my opinion, is high—$400 per person. Yet, what disturbs me the most is how far we have lost our way from the vision set out in 1860. We just celebrated our 150 anniversary at the last General Conference. We placed an emphasis on how those values relate to and are still relevant in a 21st century world. I meet so many other young Free Methodists who were drawn to Free Methodism because of our history and our connection to social justice.
Where have we gone wrong in the last four years? Why is the literature for General Conference calling it a “A Vacation with Other Believers.” In my studies of early General Conferences in the late nineteenth century these conference were not vacations but an intense time of spiritual prayer, debate, fellowship and pleading for direction for the denomination. There was no time for leisure. This was a time to engage with other believers in intense supplication to God for direction- no matter how long it took. There would be debates that lasted hours. There would be arguments; some people would leave conference upset; but it was all in an effort to ensure that the denomination was following the God’s direction. The leaders didn’t always get it right, they were only human, after all; but the point is it wasn’t a vacation.
The grandeur and costs of this upcoming General Conference seem contrary to very heart of what Free Methodism represents. I cannot help but think how many medical supplies $400 could buy the hospital in the Democratic Republic of Congo or how many water filters that would provide Clear Blue or how many more children could be helped through International Childcare Ministries. I can’t help but think how our bishops coming from developing countries will feel when they walk into American opulence and think of their congregations they have left behind or the missionaries, who are having an increasingly difficult time raising support, setting up displays in the resort ballrooms where what they do looks ridiculous compared to the gaudy, over the top interior of resort décor.
I am a Free Methodists because I believe in social justice, care for the poor, gender equality, simplicity, and above all to remember that the Godly principles we were founded on are worth preserving. North American leaders of the Free Methodist church THESE are the principles young Free Methodists want. Not mega churches, not resorts, not vacations. We want authentic not generic evangelical culture. We have sold out; but it doesn’t have to remain that way.
Sincerely a Hurting, Praying Follower of Christ,
*These thoughts are solely my own and do not reflect the opinions of any organizations or other individuals I might associate with the Free Methodist denomination*
New School Free Methodism: A Response to General Conference 2015 on the Methodist Meditations blog