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EDITOR’S NOTEBOOK: United Methodist Church Split Continues, and ACSI Makes The Wrong Call

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. 

The Extreme Center.  If you didn’t get a chance to read our article on Bishop Scott Jones, who recently left the United Methodist Church, I recommend it to you.  (You can find it here.)

I found two things about Bishop Jones to be interesting.  First, his decision to leave the UMC couldn’t have been an easy one. The Jones family is truly one of the first families of Methodism.

Jones’ late father, S. Jameson Jones, Jr., was president of the Iliff School of Theology in Denver and then dean of Duke Divinity School—two United Methodist schools. His brother, L. Gregory Jones, now the president of Belmont University, previously served as dean of Duke Divinity School.

And one of his three children, Arthur Jones, is senior pastor of St. Andrew United Methodist Church in Plano, Texas, one of the largest UMC churches in the nation, and a church which is also about to leave the denomination. (We wrote about that here.)

But what really got my attention was his use of the term “extreme center.” You don’t think of being in the center as being extreme. What does he mean by that expression?

Jones said it’s a phrase he picked up from the magazine “The Economist.”

He believes that the current liberal and conservative political language has stopped being helpful to describe a biblical position. He opposes abortion and same-sex marriage. Those are politically conservative positions, and liberals call these positions extreme, but Jones says they are in the center of the biblical witness.

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On the other hand, he believes in some social activities some consider liberal.  Such as care for the poor and immigrants, and the value of the government in playing a role in these activities and in establishing moral norms.  Again, in the current political moment, these are considered liberal positions, but Jones, once again, believes these are also at the center of the biblical witness.

That’s where he gets the phrase “extreme center.” He wrote a book by that title in 2002, and he contrasts it with what he calls a “dead center,” which is often marked by appeasement or moral compromise.

I should also note that Jones had also been one of those trying to hold the denomination together, and that’s what makes his departure even more significant.

“Now,” he says, “I realized that my hope and my dream turned out not to be possible because the church has in fact split.  But it was a desire to try to do whatever I could to hold it together and point the way forward. It just didn’t work.”

Now that it has split, he has had to make a choice. And his choice was to walk away from the denomination his family helped to build.

ACSI Makes The Wrong Call. The Association of Christian Schools International, with affiliated schools serving 5.5 million students in 100 countries, has asked for – and received – recognition by the IRS as an association of churches.

That means that it will no longer be required to release its Form 990 to the public, and that means that both the public and its member schools will no longer be able to see vital information about where its money is being spent.

ACSI said its new tax status was “based upon the advice of external public accountants,” “better represents the Association’s operations,” and “provides greater protection for the ministry given its faith-based foundation.” But it declined to explain any operational benefits or indicate what kind of protection it needed. In other words, ACSI’s explanation is utterly unconvincing, as well as tone-deaf when it comes to the importance of transparency.

ACSI joins a small minority of Christian ministries – many of them Prosperity Gospel televangelists – who now hide behind the “church exemption” in order to prevent donors and members from getting a more complete picture of the organization’s finances. To read why MinistryWatch thinks withholding a Form 990 from the public, 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.