You Don't Have to Be Methodist (to Protest the United Methodist Church's Ban on Intelligent Design)
Decades ago, an iconic New York subway ad series featured a variety of people of diverse ethnicities (Asian, Native American, African-American, etc.) smiling as they enjoyed a sandwich on rye bread. The caption: "You Don't Have to Be Jewish to Love Levy's -- Real Jewish Rye Bread."
I am not a Methodist, nor a Christian, but I too protest the ban placed by the United Methodist Church (UMC) on a mere information table -- a humble information table! -- if that table represents anything to do with Discovery Institute or intelligent design. You don't have to be Methodist to love free speech -- real unimpeded inquiry!
As John West points out, the UMC has every legal right to ban from its upcoming General Conference any organization or idea it finds objectionable. Religious liberty demands that. But a moral right? The church's motto is "Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors." Certainly, arbitrarily shutting down consideration or discussion of science pointing to design in nature is not evidence of an open heart, mind, or door. Quite the opposite.
And yes, "arbitrary" is the right word to describe the UMC's decision. Review John West's background account of our negotiations with church officials as well as the record of correspondence itself. We were offered a series of increasingly obscure, ill-informed rationales for the ban. It was clear that the church hierarchy simply did not want to allow anything to do with ID at their meeting, and would offer any excuse for excluding us. As our friend David Limbaugh tweets, this is in keeping with the way his church often does things:
I attend a Methodist church. The hierarchy is often nothing to be proud of. https://t.co/yLzMV8PupP— David Limbaugh (@DavidLimbaugh) January 18, 2016
The whole business is deplorable for a couple of reasons. First, the issue of whether biology and cosmology give evidence for design could not -- so you would think -- be more crucial for any person of faith. Intelligent design is a scientific program that does not address claims of theology, but surely no coherent account of Judeo-Christian belief can sidestep the question of design.
Second, and despite what I just said, it is the habit of many religious groups and religious leaders, Christian and Jewish, simply to avert the eyes from the debate about life's origins. Worse, they condemn those who seek to weigh the evidence of design objectively. And worse even than that, they accept and thus confirm and promote false claims about us.
Thus the initial reason offered by the UMC for banning Discovery Institute was that, supposedly, we run afoul of a 2008 church resolution "opposing the introduction of any faith-based theories such as Creationism or Intelligent Design into the science curriculum of our public schools." The idea that Discovery Institute seeks to insert ID into public schools is a slander concocted by our critics. We have been absolutely clear on that over the years.
The notion that ID is "faith-based" is, likewise, absurd. Arguments for ID make no reference to God, the Bible, theology, nothing. They rely exclusively on inference from science. They can be fairly evaluated by anyone, theist or atheist.
Though at first glance what's at stake here is no more than, as I noted, an exhibitor table at a church conference, really it is something much greater. I have found in the context of my own (Jewish) faith community that many leaders share a constitutional weakness for avoiding controversy, not least where prestige secular academic culture threatens to get into the fight. The last thing they want is to attract the wrath of the professors -- and on a subject to which they haven't given due study.
It's the role of thoughtful laypeople, however, to provide a robust counterweight by protesting institutional fear, complacence, and -- frankly -- quite often, dishonesty. We can and should give our leaders a little bit of spine when they seem to lack it.
So I invite all readers, whether Christian or Jewish or neither, to send a message to the United Methodist Church.
You don't have to be Methodist! In fact, since considerations of prestige in the eyes of the world account for many of the failures of our leaders in matters like this, you might wish to say up front that you write as an outsider to the church who feels disappointed to see United Methodists conceding to materialism on a question vital not only to them but to all human beings.
Please take a moment and urge UMC officials to rescind the ban on intelligent design. We have provided a quick and easy way to do it, right here.