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Hundreds of Texas Methodist churches vote to split from denomination after years of infighting over gay marriage and abortion
“We are a broken body,” Presiding Bishop James G.Nunn, said as he explained to his hundreds of congregants how the communion bread represented both the broken body of Jesus Christ but also the tension within the faith. “But it teaches us that the breaking is not the end.”
Nunn continued, calling the accompanying communion juice “cups of forgiveness.” He prayed for the congregation’s mercy and forgiveness toward one another.
“Even in the best of circumstances, there are feelings that are hurt, and sometimes, relationships are rendered in two,” Nunn said.
The Northwest Texas Conference includes 200 churches from far West Texas up through the Panhandle. The Lubbock gathering included 145 of those churches — about a third of the 439 Texas churches that finalized their departure from the denomination on Saturday. The split, organized by more conservative church members, comes after years of infighting that stems from the UMC’s more inclusive stances when it comes to congregants and its acceptance of gay marriage and other divides that mirror, and are likely to intensify, America’s broader, ongoing polarization. The measure in Lubbock passed by a vote of 261-24.
Hundreds more are expected to similarly depart in the coming months after getting final approval from church leaders and join the Global Methodist Church, which would follow the same beliefs more conservatively. The UMC has four regional bodies in Texas, two of which met on Saturday: the one in Lubbock and another and the Texas Annual Conference in Houston.
There, in the nation’s fourth-largest city, 1,245 members voted to approve the disaffiliation, with 3% voting to oppose the split and another 4% abstaining. Nearly half of the UMC congregations in East Texas — 294 churches — voted to leave the denomination.
The fight within the denomination occurs as the UMC has expanded into more conservative areas of the world. And it comes amid a national reckoning in broader, American Christianity over similar questions about inclusivity and doctrinal alignment that have intensified
“It parallels this moment in the broader world,” said Rev. Nathan Lonsdale Bledsoe, senior pastor at St. Stephen’s United Methodist Church in Houston, which is remaining in the UMC. “It's a hard time to bring people together. We really reflect the brokenness of the culture and the world.”
In Lubbock, the Northwest Texas Annual Conference greenlit the exits of nearly 75% of the region’s congregations. According to the conference workbook, it is anticipated the northwest division will cease to exist.
Archie Echols, a retired deputy minister who has been part of the conference for 75 years, was the only person to speak before the vote to disaffiliate. He referenced a scripture that instructs them to prepare a way for God, and closing the church to gay members goes against that.
“I think there’s a whole mass of God’s children,” Echols said. “And I feel, instead of preparing a way with that mass of people, who happen to be gay, we’re making a block that doesn’t let them in. May we open up the table and not cause people to be left out.”
When they asked church members to raise their hands in favor of disaffiliation, dozens of arms flew up.
In response to the vote, St. John’s United Methodist Church in Lubbock released a statement saying they will continue being part of UMC and advocate for church policy changes at local and denominational levels.
“We will continue to work at being an affirming and inclusive community for all,” the church said in a statement.
Many of the Texas congregations say they’ll join a new, more conservative breakaway denomination, the Global Methodist Church, that was created earlier this year.
The mass exodus in Texas significantly exacerbates ongoing issues for the UMC: Since 2019, when UMC delegates approved initial disaffiliation plans, more than 1,300 of the UMC’s 30,500 American churches have voted to leave, and the denomination is now bracing for massive spending cuts and 30-year budget lows, the denomination’s news service reported earlier this year.
The split is likely to further religious and political partisanship as United Methodists — who make up a huge portion of more moderate, mainline Christianity — lose influence, said Ryan Burge, an Eastern Illinois University professor of religion and political science who has for years studied the decline and polarization of American religious life.
Burge noted that mainline Christian denominations have for decades been hemorrhaging members and power as younger generations become increasingly nonreligious. He said the new, breakaway denomination is much more likely to align with strands of conservative evangelicalism that are already the dominant force in American religion and Republican Party politics.
“It’s going to accelerate religious polarization because the mainline is going to be even more marginalized, and they were always the moderates,” Burge said. “We are losing the middle tranche. They have always been the counterpoint to evangelicals.”
UMC fight history
The UMC debates date back to the 1970s, a few years after the 1968 merger of the Methodist Church and Evangelical United Brethren Church that created the denomination. As the sexual revolution and other progressive social movements of the 1960s continued to flourish in more liberal parts of the country, the UMC attempted to reconcile its ranks’ divergent views on gay rights and other issues.
At the UMC’s 1972 meeting, Don Hand, a San Antonio lawyer and Methodist layman sought what he thought was a compromise on the issue: An amendment to the faith group’s doctrinal stances that said all people were created equal by God, but that homosexuality was nonetheless “incompatible” with Christian beliefs. “We do not condone the practice of homosexuality, and consider this practice incompatible with Christian doctrine,” Hand, wrote at the time.
That 16-word addition, known as the “incompatibility clause,” has only grown more contentious in the 50 years since, as Americans — including many Methodists — increasingly accept same-sex marriage. Meanwhile, the denomination has increasingly expanded globally, giving more power to voting blocs from conservative countries. And, after the United States legalized same-sex marriage, American ministers were forced to decide whether they’d condone gay marriage.
Nathan Lonsdale Bledsoe, the pastor of St. Stephen’s United Methodist Church in Houston, said that he is sad to see so many churches depart from the UMC, but that he is hopeful for a future.
“In the very short term, it hurts,” he said. “We’ve fought a lot, and not talked about what it means to love our neighbors or what this seemingly endless fight does to our witness. And I am hopeful that, moving forward, we are able to do more interesting things that make the church look a little more like the Kingdom of God.”
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2022/12/03/texas-united-methodist-church-split/.
The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.
Editor’s note: The following contains graphic language.
A Texas man was arrested Friday on a federal charge that he left a threatening voicemail message for one Boston doctor who provides care to the transgender community, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office in Massachusetts.
The man, Matthew Jordan Lindner, 38, of Comfort, Texas, was charged with one count of transmitting interstate threats. Comfort is in Kendall County, about 50 miles northwest of San Antonio.
Lindner, whose company Lindner Ammo was a federal firearms license in 2019, is accused of leaving a voicemail message on Aug. 31 threatening to kill the doctor who works at the Boston-based National LGBTQIA+ Health Education Center.
Following the phone call to the Boston doctor an FBI agent stated in an affidavit that Lindner called two other phone numbers assigned to a Rhode Island university where the doctor is a faculty member. The calls were made from his company’s number, according to AT&T phone records cited by federal investigators.
Lindner was arrested Friday morning and made an initial appearance in the Western District of Texas. He is being held without bail, according to the New York Times. He will appear in federal court in Boston at a later date. If convicted, he could face up to five years in prison, three years of supervised release and a fine of up to $250,000.
In the recorded message to the Boston doctor Lindner said, “you’re all gonna burn,” according to prosecutors. He added, “a group of people on their way to handle” the doctor and “You signed your own warrant.” Lindner named the doctor in the voicemail and ended the message by saying, “You’ve woken up enough people. And upset enough of us. And you signed your own ticket.”
That call lasted 41 seconds, the affidavit says.
The doctor who received the threat was not publicly named by prosecutors. Lindner did not respond to calls or text messages from The Texas Tribune.
The National LGBTQIA+ Health Education Center, which is part of the Fenway Institute, provides educational programs and health care for the queer and transgender communities. The center does not offer clinical care or referrals, according to its website. The Texas Tribune has reached out to the center for comment, but the organization did not immediately respond.
Hospitals and doctors across the country have received death threats over the health care they offer transgender children.
Gender-affirming care which leading health care organizations in Texas say is the best way to provide care for gender dysphoria, which is the distress someone can feel when their assigned sex doesn’t align with their gender identity. It includes medical, social and psychological support to help a person understand and appreciate their gender identity. Providers often work with counselors and family members to ensure they have everything they need to navigate the health care system.
According to federal prosecutors, false information began to spread online in August that Boston Children’s Hospital doctors were performing hysterectomies on children. They become the target of a harassment campaign based on misinformation about its transgender surgery program by conservative social media accounts. Hospital staff told WBUR, the public radio station in Boston, at that time that they've received aggressive calls, emails and death threats for some providers too.
BCH staff has said doctors do not perform hysterectomies or gender-affirming surgery on patients under the age of 18, the affidavit says. Lindner's call to the Boston doctor followed these threats.
“Mr. Lindner’s alleged conduct – a death threat – is based on falsehoods and amounts to an act of workplace violence,” said Rachael S. Rollins, the U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts, in a press release. “The victim, a Doctor caring for gender nonconforming and transgender patients, should be able to engage in this meaningful and necessary work without fear of physical harm or death.”
The U.S. Department of Justice said it has pledged to protect the rights of the gender nonconforming and transgender community, which includes the health care providers who render care and support.
Joseph R. Bonavolonta, the FBI’s special agent in charge of the Boston Division, said in a statement that the doctor had been targeted because she was caring for gender nonconforming children.
“No one should have to live in fear of violence because of who they are, what kind of work they do, where they are from, or what they believe,” he said.
Disclosure: AT&T and New York Times have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2022/12/03/texas-transgender-care-threat-arrest/.
The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.
Many GOP voters would prefer a friendlier face for fascism — but they're still held hostage by the Trump cult
How many terrifying chapters remain in the Book of Donald Trump? The American people are in the process of finding out as they try to escape a seemingly endless story.
Public opinion research shows that a large number of Americans — for various reasons, not all of them entirely noble or about saving "democracy" — are tired of the extremism, turmoil and chaos of Trumpism and the larger Republican fascist movement. In the recent midterm elections, millions of Americans voted to slow or stop the Republican Party's "red tide" and in doing so won a brief reprieve in the struggle against authoritarian rule.
On a fundamental level, the midterms also represented a direct pushback against Donald Trump as most major candidates he personally endorsed, along with other banner-carriers for the Big Lie about the 2020 election, were rebuffed at the polls. Even Republican voters and previous Trump voters appear to be tiring of him.
Many such voters still support Trumpism and neofascism for various reasons — including racial grievance-mongering, political thuggery, moral panics over "culture war" issues and other anti-democratic behavior — but would prefer those things in a "friendlier" and less "toxic" package. Let's not delude ourselves: Many if not most Trump and Republican and other right-wing voters want to end multiracial pluralistic democracy in America, but want to do it in a more "respectable" or "professional" fashion.
Republican elites and gatekeepers have clearly grown tired of what they now see as Donald Trump's limitations in advancing their authoritarian agenda. In essence, the Trump movement was a successful proof of concept about how to undermine American democracy in the 21st century by breaking longstanding norms and institutions — up to and including the attempted coup that culminated on Jan. 6, 2021. As president, Trump also had enormous instrumental value for the "conservative" movement's reactionary-revolutionary agenda, largely because he appointed three right-wing Supreme Court justices and reshaped the federal judiciary.
The mainstream media and its professional centrists are also growing tired of Trump and his movement and appear eager to anoint a new Republican leader who is more "mainstream" and "traditional," supposedly heralding a return to "normal politics" and an end to the existential threat to American democracy. Such a conclusion is premature and based more on hope than evidence. Indeed, it represents a fundamental misunderstanding of political reality and the true danger of American neofascism.
Here is the basic problem: By and large, the American people and the political class are tired of Donald Trump. But he is not tired of the spotlight or ready to leave the public stage.
That is unmistakably a dangerous situation. Trump is likely a sociopath, if not a psychopath. He is a cult leader who possesses tremendous allure and dark magnetism, and who still commands a following in the many tens of millions. He continues to threaten violence and chaos if he is indicted and prosecuted for his many obvious crimes, which include violating the Espionage Act and the coup attempt of January 2021. Recently Trump has embraced the most extreme figures in the white supremacist movement, which includes avowed neo-Nazis and other antisemitic hate-mongers.
For Trump's followers, the destructive, antisocial energy he has unleashed is experienced as a powerful force of liberation, an opportunity for revenge against the elites they believe have oppressed them.
Several weeks ago, Trump finally announced that he will run for president again in 2024. Trump has suggested that if he returns to the White House he will seek revenge against his designated enemies -- which would include putting journalists and by implication other people who criticize him in prison. Trump has also said he will pardon his followers who attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6.
Trump's followers and cultists would welcome such a tyrannical reign, of course. They never want the story to end. For them, the chaotic, destructive and antisocial energy of Trumpism is experienced as a powerful force of liberation, an opportunity for revenge against "political correctness" and "the elites" they believe have oppressed and marginalized them.
In a recent interview with the Guardian, Rick Wilson, Republican strategist, co-founder of the Lincoln Project and leading never-Trump conservative, issued a warning about the likely course of the 2024 presidential campaign. He noted that the conservatives who have turned against Trump in 2022 are the same people who, six or seven years ago, "were confidently asserting Donald Trump could never, ever under any circumstances win the Republican nomination, and there were never any circumstances where Donald Trump could beat Hillary Clinton":
"I know that the Republicans who right now are acting very bold and the donors who are acting very frisky — as Trump starts winning primaries, they will bend the knee, they will break, they will fall, they will all come back into line. …
"Right now they're all talking so much shit: 'I'm not going to get with Trump. I'm going to be with the hot new number, DeSantis.' When DeSantis gets his ass handed to him, when he gets his clock cleaned in a debate or forum or just by Trump grinding away at him, eating him alive mentally for weeks on end, and suddenly Donald Trump's numbers start posting up again, all the conservative thinkers who are right now like, 'We will never vote for Trump again, we have integrity!' will find themselves some excuse. 'Well, you know, we don't like Trump's tweets, but otherwise it's pure communism!'
"It's all bullshit, it's all a fucking game, and that game is going to play out in a way that does not result in the outcome that the donor class thinks they're going to get."
Wilson is highly skeptical that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, the mainstream media's anointed Trump replacement, can actually beat Trump in a head-to-head matchup. "Has he actually faced up against a full campaign of the brutality and the cruelty that Donald Trump will level against him?" Wilson asks. "He has not":
"In a Republican primary against Trump, even Trump in a weakened state still has an innate feral sense of cruelty and cunning that Ron DeSantis does not have. ...
"All of a sudden, all that donor money is going to go, 'Oh, fuck,' and then they're going to call Ron's people and go, 'Hey, listen, we love Ron but we're worried. We're gonna have to sit this one out for a little while. Let's see what it looks like in a month.'
"And then a month will pass and all of a sudden Donald Trump is the nominee. That's how it's going to go and I don't say this out of any joy; I say this because I've just been to this fucking party too many times now."
Donald Trump has multiple pathways to remaining in control of the Republican Party and continuing to menace the American people. At this point, he remains the leading Republican candidate for 2024. He has a firm base of support among older and more conservative voters, one that is far stronger and deeper than any of his rivals command. He has amassed a huge war chest for his 2024 campaign and associated super PACs.
Republican voters will choose Trump knowing that his return to power will bring renewed chaos and destruction.
If Republican voters and right-leaning independents are offered the choice between Donald Trump and Joe Biden (or literally any other Democrat), nearly all of them will overcome whatever reluctance they feel and choose Trump. They will do this knowing that a second Trump term will bring renewed chaos and destruction. And of course, If Trump is somehow not the Republican Party's presidential nominee in 2024, he will do everything in his power to destroy it in an act of spite and revenge.
Mainstream media, professional politics watchers and "respectable" conservatives have repeatedly assured us that the Republican Party and its voters are on the verge of abandoning Trump and returning to some semblance of political normalcy. It never happens. Ultimately, Trump understands the party and its voters — and the underlying cultural and societal sicknesses and troubles that spawned his neofascist movement — far better than conservative or media elites do. Until and unless the Republican leadership solve that riddle, they will remain in the thrall of Donald Trump and his followers no matter how much they wish they could escape.