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Church Culture Opinion

EDITOR’S NOTEBOOK: The Power of Apology, United Methodist Tragedy

Editor’s Note:  Most Saturdays we will feature this “Editor’s Notebook” column. MinistryWatch President Warren Smith will comment on one or more stories in the week’s news, adding an additional perspective or, sometimes, a behind-the-scenes look at how the story came to be.

A Simple “I’m Sorry.”  We begin today with something you don’t hear Christian leaders do too much these days, and that’s apologize.

That apology came from Andy Wood.  Wood was named as Rick Warren’s successor at Saddleback Church after Warren retires.  He has apologized for inviting Mark Driscoll to speak at the 2021 Echo Leadership Conference. “In the past I interviewed Mark Driscoll to help pastors learn from his mistakes,” Wood tweeted on Friday, Aug. 12. “Since then additional controversy and pain has come out. My choice hurt and confused many people. I regret the pain, confusion & distraction this caused. I humbly apologize for my mistake and error.”

And Andy Wood wasn’t the only one apologizing.

You may have heard the bizarre story of a Kansas City pastor who berated his congregation because they failed to give him a luxury watch.

Pastor Carlton Funderburke is senior pastor of The Church of the Well in Kansas City.  He who rose to sudden fame for calling his congregation “poor, broke, busted and disgusted” because they had not given him an expensive Movado watch, which he said he told his congregation he wanted.

Funderburke has since apologized to his church and issued a public apology after the sermon went viral on YouTube. The apology video displayed a different side of Funderburke.  The original video showed him in a tailored suit, but the apology video was less flamboyant.  

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In it, he confessed that his actions and words were inexcusable, “I offer no justification or defense,” He concluded: “I deeply regret this moment and solicit your prayers and your forgiveness as we grow forward.” 

I don’t think an apology can or should wipe away all consequences.  But it’s a good start.  Whatever you think of the original transgressions of these two men, I commend them for being humble enough to apologize.  

That said, we should all be watching to make sure that their lives reflect the sincerity of their apologies.

Predictions Are Dangerous.  Here at MinistryWatch, we avoid punditry.  Our mission is to report, not predict.  I often quote Yogi Berra on this point.  One of his Yogi-isms is: “Predictions are dangerous.  Especially predictions about the future.”

That said, ideas have consequences, and bad ideas have victims, and it is fair to look to history to anticipate what might happen in the future.  Mark Twain is reported to have said, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.” 

The United Methodists could learn much from the history of other denominations that have jettison’s a biblical understanding of human sexuality.  Without exception, they have declined, and often dramatically.  That’s the story of the Episcopal Church, the Presbyterian Church USA, the United Church of Christ – the list goes on.  

United Methodist leaders are fond of pointing out that the number of churches so far disaffiliating with the UMC for new and more conservative groups, including the Global Methodist Church, are small.  In the Western North Carolina Conference, for example, only about 30 of the 1,000 churches have sought disaffiliation.  In Florida, only 14 out of 700.

But that argument is an exercise in missing the point.  It fails to acknowledge that this early exodus is just the beginning.  Others, many hundreds of others, will follow.  After all, the deadline for disaffiliation is still a year-and-a-half away.  

Also, it fails to note that the departure of these “first movers” will forever alter the UMC itself.  We saw this phenomenon most plainly in the Episcopal Church.  First came the ordination of women, which drove away many conservatives.  With those conservatives gone, it became easier to push through the ordination of gay men.  Some who were comfortable with women’s ordination left then.  Then the church elected a gay man to be a bishop, and that drove more conservatives away.  

Soon, a church that says it is welcoming and inclusive was a hostile place for church members who actually believed the creed Episcopalians recite each Sunday.  Indeed, a former Episcopal bishop, Fitz Allison, once said of another bishop: “When John Spong recites the creed, he perjures himself.”

The bottom line:  In 1960, the Episcopal Church had three million members.  And that was when the country had less than 200 million.  Since then, the country has nearly doubled in size, while the Episcopal Church has declined by more than two-thirds.  

It’s a tragic story, one that didn’t happen overnight, but which at some point became inexorable, irreversible.  And it is a story that is repeating – or rhyming – in the United Methodist Church today.

On Mark Twain.  By the way, Mark Twain almost certainly did not say, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes.”  The provenance of that quote is a riddle.  If you – like me – enjoy digging into these sorts of mysteries, click here.

Warren Cole Smith

Warren previously served as Vice President of WORLD News Group, publisher of WORLD Magazine, and Vice President of The Colson Center for Christian Worldview. He has more than 30 years of experience as a writer, editor, marketing professional, and entrepreneur. Before launching a career in Christian journalism 25 years ago, Smith spent more than seven years as the Marketing Director at PricewaterhouseCoopers.