The United Methodist Church (UMC), whose motto is “Open Minds, Open Hearts, Open Doors” has barred Discovery Institute from having an information table in the exhibit hall at their upcoming quadrennial General Conference this May. After submitting an application to be in the exhibit hall per the established process, Discovery Institute was informed that they would not allowed to be present as the Institute’s position on ID was at odds with the UMC’s Statement on Evolution and Intelligent Design which says in part that the UMC opposes “…the introduction of any faith-based theories such as Creationism or Intelligent Design into the science curriculum of our public schools.” It should be readily clear that when this language was drafted back in 2008 and inserted into the UMC’s Book of Discipline, the guiding document of the Church, that the UMC was grossly misinformed about the nature ID.
In citing this statement as the ostensible reason for denying Discovery Institute’s application for an info table, the UMC also demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of the work of the Institute as well. In responding to the denial, Discovery Institute made clear that they do not advocate for including ID in public schools either. It was also pointed out that the conflation of creationism with ID is also incorrect, as regular readers of UD know all too well. But none of the actual facts seem to matter. After making formal appeal of the decision, Discovery Institute was told by the Chair of the UMC’s Commission on the General Conference, which is the deciding body for all things related to the conference, that the decision to bar Discovery Institute was final.
Now certainly the UMC or any other denomination or organization can include or exclude any group they wish. However, that doesn’t mean such a decision is right or even honest. Such is the case with this misinformed decision by the UMC. Further, given their reliance on certain flimsy, misinformed and incorrect statements in their social principles as justification for denying Discovery’s request, it is fair to take a closer look at how that criterion is applied in other cases. Doing so reveals that the UMC is quite inconsistent in its application of its own social principles in deciding who can and can’t be sponsors and exhibtors at General Conference. Two of the biggest sponsors are Home Depot and Staples, two corporations well known for their vocal advocacy of gay rights and same-sex marriage. Regardless of one’s stance on those particular issues, the UMC’s Book of Discipline makes very clear that both the practice of homosexuality and clergy performing or blessing same-sex unions are incompatible with Christian teaching. (It should be noted, however, that the UMC in no way bars or excludes gays or anyone else from attending their churches. Indeed the statement on inclusivity makes it quite clear that that is not the case.)
So why would the UMC accept Home Depot and Staples are major sponsors and exhibitors when both advocate strongly for positions that are completely at odds with the UMC’s official stance on these issues? I guess money talks, as both corporations shelled out several thousand for the privilege of being major sponsors. All of that suggests that the UMC is not playing fair, nor is it following its own criterion in an even-handed way in determining who can and can not be a sponsor or exhibitor at General Conference. For a denomination that proudly and loudly proclaims “Open Minds, Open Hearts, Open Doors”, it seems that they only mean that when it comes to certain things. As a United Methodist myself, I find all this quite hypocritical on the part of my Church’s leadership.
Discovery Institute is urging any interested parties to contact the UMC leadership responsible for this decision and ask them to reconsider. It would be the right thing to do in keeping with their motto.