Tuesday, September 18, 2012

#261- Special Edition: Putting Dem Liberals In Their Place, Bless God!

(Edit: Since the initial posting, I have learned two things related to the post: 
1) The Michigan District Resolution included below was in fact a passed resolution. The original post described it as a proposed resolution.
2) Michigan is not the only district with such a resolution. The Massachusetts/Rhode Island District has a very similar resolution as well as the great possibility that there could be others in other districts. If you know of a district that has such a resolution either proposed or passed, feel free to drop me a line via e-mail or twitter). 

Warning: This post travels. Important non-SAL written, UPC produced document at the end. And since the post travels, why not a little travel music to accompany the journey?

As illogical as it may seem, I still believe that the UPCI still has a chance to be an open, honest and just religious organization.

I even wish dearly the UPCI would demonstrate the love and openness that I think is part of the organization's very core. I believe that core of love and sincerity is still alive in some ministers and churches. And because of them, I think we still have a chance. 

The Weirdness

And then you catch wind about a proposed passed resolution from the UPCI's Michigan District ministers meeting just last week. But let's rewind...

Now if there is a political-body that I have a stronger personal attachment to than the UPCI as a whole, it is the Michigan District of it. Michigan is where I have lived my entire life and reside to this day. Most of what I know or love about the UPCI comes from this state. I was a camp counselor at the Michigan District Senior High Camp for three straight years. I can remember being absolutely giddy about Michigan Holiday Youth Conventions year in and year out. 

It's safe to say that if it wasn't for the Michigan District, I would never have given the Apostolic Doctrine a chance past the age of 19. 

The Leadership in Michigan used to be top notch as well. Promoted an atmosphere of good, clean, Christian fun and unity. The politics were once a marginal issue, which was comforting. Outside of three local grumpy pastors who seemed to have a personal agenda against me and the blog (unwittingly providing much of the inspiration for what has been written on the blog), most of the other youth or adult leaders here in Michigan had been genuinely cool, calm and a pleasure to be around, whether they disagreed with me about the blog or not.  If there were disagreements, I usually wasn't aware of them.

In the past couple years, things got weird however. The youth president of Michigan seemed to have a strange habit of mentioning me and a couple of my close friends by name in district youth meetings. We were referenced as the guys who sit with our arms crossed in the back pews of youth services, making harsh judgments on the service.

The whole scenario was news to my friends and I. We didn't even know the youth president personally and to the best of our knowledge, he had no idea who we were. He never talked to us about what we were thinking. He just told people what we thought. He put words in our mouth and let everyone at these meetings know what he thought we were saying. He let our dear friends know in these meetings how we, The Enemy, exist. And we had names. And we were out to criticize whatever church services we found ourselves in.

How do you even handle this stuff? If you were me? You either get hurt or laugh right?  Personally, I chose to laugh most of the time...thinking he can't possibly be serious.

The dude even tried giving us one of those "I'm the Alpha-Male here" death grip hand-shakes that had us giggling like "He is serious!!!"

We were hoping that he was the only one in our dear district that thought this way about us...

We were wrong...

Soon, I saw some of my minister friends kindly shown the way out of the UPC. Their departure however was more of the voluntary variety that was aided by suggestion from a few of the higher-up ministers. .

As for those of us remaining, relationships got awkward. Friends became former friends. Just the kind of former friends who start getting all quiet as you walk up to converse. Handshakes got slightly awkward. Stares were many. And fewer and fewer could look me in the eyes and say "Hey brother" and actually mean it in love. 

Thankfully, there are still a few friends considered "conservative" remaining in Michigan who talk to me like I am a human being when I see them. I am greatly thankful for them. While I see them less and less, I love that I can talk with them without the slightest bit of self-conscious anxiety that they are labeling me as a liberal before they label me as Joel Riley, old friend.

The rest tend to make me feel like a Red Communist trying to take over their blessed and sacred Truth. Which is weird because it's not like I'm an alien here. I grew up in Michigan going to the same youth rallies that everyone else went to. Plus I just got my Master's from UGST for goodness sake. That means I could walk my way into ordination if I ever became motivated enough. I once wrote a 30 page paper proposing a working ontology for Oneness Pentecostalism because I thought it could be beneficial for the movement. I say this with so much regret, because my point is not to brag, but to say that when things got weird here in Michigan, I was very much at home with the movement I was allegedly attacking.

Not to mention people who knew about this blog and worked in UPCI headquarters treated me way better than the people in Michigan.

In Hazelwood/Florissant, MO, many UPCI higher-ups would tell me they disagreed with me about some of my views but they never let that get in the way of our friendship. They never stopped treating me like a human being. I think I had one awkward encounter in my numerous trips to St. Louis where someone tried sort of rebuking me to my face for the blog, but the other conservatives in attendance begged me not to mind him. 

The people who had more at risk being my friend in Hazelwood, MO than people in Michigan were still very much my friend. If I was to guess why, it was because the people in St. Louis really believed in the UPCI message, and if the message is True, it's going to stand whether people agree or not. Plus they were willing to listen to my beliefs instead of assuming that I was full of some "Death to Standards" kind of rhetoric. I think they ultimately saw that I cared deeply about the organization but that we just disagreed on how to properly "care" for the UPCI. 

They saw that I am convicted about a Oneness Christology. They saw that I adore Pentecostalism. They saw that I was and still am a Oneness Pentecostal through and through and yes that gets a lot of liberals mad...

Yet for over a year now, I have stopped attending Michigan District Events because I literally would get nervous and shy at these places, in light of the new kind of "Anti-Liberal Inquisition" going on around the state. If there is one thing I hate, it's having to be self-conscious about what people are thinking about me... especially what old friends are thinking about me. And at District gatherings most of the people who would talk to me were doing so to be polite, which isn't that hard to detect when you used to be friends with them. Some of them would have this weird stare that says "I'm watching you buddy," and it was hard for me not to laugh. 

But this isn't some self-pity story, because if you knew me personally, you would know that I laugh at the thought of being a victim in this whole mess. I chose to start this blog. I chose to say the things I said. I didn't anticipate how big of an impact they would have with some of the people I knew, but it wasn't like I was feeling bad for myself. Even when "closet-liberals" come to me from time to time for advice, I will not be the one to say "Oh you poor thing." 

As for those I have met who have a problem with me or the rumored "liberal emergents"...
I have come to see that outside of Stoneking or Mooney, the most paranoid and anti-liberal preachers are the kind whose ministry did not plan out like they wanted. These are the guys who notice that people don't take their ministry as seriously as they think they deserve. The kind of preacher who isn't getting the preaching invites he thinks he is owed. The biggest witch-hunters are the ones who suffer an inferiority complex like whoa. Basically, the ones with the loudest bark also having the smallest bite. Preachers that wouldn't recognize the Good Samaritan if he saved their own life since the Good Samaritan wouldn't be dressed like an Apostolic. In other words, the loudest, divisive preachers are just bad people who do not represent the UPCI.

Paul Mooney or the Michigan youth president will talk all day from the pulpit and in meetings and tell you what we alleged liberal emergents are saying. But they'll never hear our actual thoughts since they don't have the courage to actually converse with us. We're nothing more than a fantasy to argue with in their mind.

And when we're being portrayed in such a negative light it's hard to get a word in to say, "Well, No. That's not true." And even harder to tell fellow Oneness Pentecostals that we do care very much about our movement. We care deeply because this is our family just as much as our biological family. For us to just up and decide to conspire to bring the UPCI down would be an attempt at setting fire to our own history and childhood and friendships. And that's just not our style. We may have questions and we may disagree with some interpretations of the Bible, but what kind of environment would the UPC be building if there are threats to kick anyone out who even thinks about not agreeing with every facet of what being an Apostolic consists of?

But then you get stuff like the following document sent to every licensed minister in the state of Michigan. There are two pages below of the same piece of paper. The first to prove that it is 100% real. The piece of paper was scanned in amateurishly by yours truly. The second paper is a zoomed in, easier-to-read, highlighted version of the first document. It comes from a minister's conference just last week up at the Michigan campgrounds.... It's a proposed passed resolution:

When you read the above you can get mad.You can wonder what it means when the word "legalism" is a positive word within the UPCI. You can get frustrated at the passive aggressiveness of the whole "we don't want anyone to leave our fellowship, but..." rhetorical nonsense. You can wonder why they care so much to the point of sounding like reactionary control freaks. You can call your liberal friends and talk about how paranoid those ministers sound. You can laugh at how poorly written it is, but chances are they'll edit the resolution to clear up the poor grammar and odd wording.  None of these behaviors actually helps the the fact that such resolutions exist.*

So what can you do?

Well if you're like most of my friends, you move on and call the UPCI a self-destructive Titanic.  Which yeah, there's good reason to think they're right.

But I have a different idea:

To stop letting the conservatives in the movement speak for everyone else...

1) Liberal Ministers -If you're a liberal minister thinking about leaving the movement and find resolutions like these as confirmation from the Lord to move on, I beg of you to hear me out for a brief moment:

Chances are you've grown up in this thing. And if so, saying good bye is no fly-by-not kind of decision. It's tough because it would mean saying good bye to some of your closest friends and family. Not to mention that a lot of people will think you're a traitor which is so disturbingly false that it's impossible to laugh off. Plus you know very well that the people who speak wrong of you don't have a clue about where your heart is at and how you wish to God you weren't so conflicted. You would make your own theology as tidy and simple as some ministers make the Apostolic message out to be if it wasn't a question of God's Word in the middle of it. 

What I'm asking is that before you leave, or if you are already on your way out, please do not be silent. Do not paralyze your own voice and belief in fear of what others will say about you. Speak up and say what you believe. Talk about your struggles. Speak from your heart and don't hesitate. While you may not benefit, I assure you that it can help others and at the very least not let those Apostolic curmudgeons to have a monopoly of who speaks for the UPCI. If we are silent in response to such resolutions like the above, those ministers who initiated it will take this as affirmation that they are the unified voice representing a movement that is far more diverse and loving than they could ever imagine. 

2) Loving Ministers- If you're a UPCI abiding preacher who agrees with everything the manual says but also enjoys diversity and differences of opinion with the UPCI, and thinks these witch-hunters are making something out of the UPCI that it should never be, I beg of you to speak up and defend these hesitant ministers who may not agree with every dot and tittle of the UPCI bylaws. You have no idea the kind of influence your voice can have, especially if you adhere to everything in the manual. Because when you speak out, it can only be received with love and care and conviction since you yourself don't have anything to gain by defending those who may feel threatened within the movement.

3) Conservative Ministers- Especially those responsible for the above resolution within Michigan... Call me sometime. Or if you have the time let's meet up for some lunch. Let's at least start a conversation so you can feel like you've listened to someone's views who disagree with yours instead of making a straw-man out of what we believe. My e-mail is joelrile@gmail.com and I'll be happy to send you my phone number from there.

*I do wonder if these pro-legalism people who drafted the resolution are aware that sharp, uncompromising hostility to the point of getting some ministers kicked out of the organization also means less income for the district as well, but what do I know?


  1. I really enjoy reading your blog, makes me sad to hear all this. Keep it up, I always feel like if you aren't upsetting someone, you're probably doing something wrong.

  2. The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.

  3. Im glad our church doesn't get caught up in all the "witchhunt" activity...we have a pastor that can be considered both conservative and progressive in the areas that really matter...you never get the feeling that he is singling people out but he preaches true inward holiness.Love your blog bro.

  4. Logic of attached document ‘resolution’:
    Conflict: Parent has semi-rebellious, inquisitive child.
    Solution: Kick them out of the house.
    Unfortunately, I’ve experienced this scenario in my own family. Not to mention, leadership had advised a friend’s parents to expel him over differences in belief. ‘Tough love’ they call it.

  5. For years I've heard that the UPCi is not "legalistic", now they're straight out embracing it?

  6. This resolution does seem bizarre in that the Michigan District of the United Pentecostal Church has come right out and voted to say, "Yup! We're legalists". Isn't reading the New Testament a requirement for becoming a licensed minister in the first place? Soon they'll be burning Bibles to try and keep whatever stragglers remain.

  7. Joel, I think that the UPCI is killing itself. Why would anyone want to stay attached to an organization that has such a bad rep? It would take decades AFTER (or if) it changes for them to attract anybody. You would never find me returning to a UPC church, even if they declared a change. I think people need to let it sink on its own, 'cause there is no reason to try to stay afloat to resurrect it.

  8. Ditto! I left the UPCI after 33 years. things just don't add up any longer after I started reading the Bible with the UPC glasses off. God is a God of love....Not scare tactics, rules, and always trying to catch you in a sin. WE are human. We sin. And He forgives us if we repent. God's GRACE will not be discounted by the many works of the UPC. The work was finished at the cross. WE have only to accept it.

  9. I think the most of these young upc preachers leave because of doctrinal and theological differences, not just because of intolerance or legalism. I agree that the upc should lighten up and stop burying itself and their members, but I don't think this is why most young preachers leave.

  10. Joel,
    Who is your audience? Is this therapeutic for you? If so, is that your main objective here? I gather the main critique is the controlling, inconsistent, and old, sexist, homophobic, white guy politics within the UPCI.
    Do you believe the doctrine? Do you attend religious services anywhere?
    I've been where you are, with the burning inspiration to speak edification and provide constructive criticism of the Apostolic culture, but its way bigger than you are. I read the entry about being bitter, by your friend, and that is how thousands of 'us' have been written off as lost causes. There is a time period where it is bitterness, its a process, but I don't sense your stuck I just relate a lot, so my empathy makes me wonder about your life now.
    There are only X amount (I think its 17 million) Apostolic (Oneness/Holiness)followers worldwide (heaven must be tiny) thats the plan only a handful get in and F the Muslims and most of the Jews and all the gays (KKK?). This small group breads narrow minded people, and thankfully you escaped that destiny. It sucks that thinking macro does not always alleviate the pain at the micro level.
    If this is therapy good luck. There are many strong, smart, educated survivors who in spite of being raised in the UPCI, and in my opinion any, Apostolic church; but we never hear from each other. When they shun us, the shunned are mostly permanently separated. Start a blog for us, the emerging ex-Apostolic intelligentsia.
    Are you in it still because you think you can change it? First, change social conservatives minds about gays... that would be easier!
    Take care Joel

  11. Ex-Apostolic,

    My audience? I don't control who comes here and reads this stuff.
    Is this therapeutic? No. Do I enjoy some aspects of it? yes.

    Do I believe the doctrine? Depends on your definition of doctrine. I do not believe in the trinity. So Oneness without the dogmatic absolution of a oneness position.And I admire acts 2. One of my favorite chapters in the Bible. Is that the doctrine you mean? Because yeah, I like the theology of Pentecostalism and the message Jesus was sending the church in the Upper Room (NOT "How to be saved! But Welcome to the weirdness that is the church!) My point is not to let the white men you speak of within the UPC have a monopoly over the Oneness Pentecostal message.

    Do I attend religious services anywhere? Yes.

    Do only Oneness Pentecostals go to heaven?Absolutely not. In a few blogs prior, I mention that for instance I believe homosexuals will be in heaven.... So the narrow judgments of some preachers I absolutely disdain. I just don't want them to have the last word on the matter.

    as for the idea of an ex-apostolic intelligentsia, I get what you are saying, and I will say there are other website to network....(e-mail me)....

    But I do wholly despise the intellectual arrogance that a lot of ex-apostolics have.... because it ends up just as condescending as those apostolic judgmental preachers you and I disagree with.....Apostolics think they have the Truth. And oddly enough ex-Apostolics think they have the truth in the form of being enlightened to not believing in the Apostolic message.... it's that kind of reactionary gamemenship that I just can't get along with....

    If Christianity and the Cross is true, remember as Paul said, it is foolishness to the world. Christianity is not wisdom.

    Lastly, I don't think I can change the movement. But I think my call in life is to always be on the losing side... uphill battles until my death... winning never felt that great to me. I do hope to indeed make people reconsider the issue of homosexuality. That's definitely a passion of mine....



  12. Joel, Re: "I do hope to indeed make people reconsider the issue of homosexuality. That's definitely a passion of mine." The following responsum dealing with Jewish Law [halakhah]. May you find it helpful and insightful pursuing your passion.


    Homosexuality and Halakhah -Traditional sources on homosexuality.

    How shall Conservative Judaism relate to gay and lesbian couples? "Lesbianism is never mentioned in the Torah."

    The light of the Messiah, when it blazes in the heart, teaches one to dignify all people: “It shall be on that day that the root of Jesse will stand as a sign to the nations, and peoples will seek him, and his consolation shall be dignity (Isaiah 11:10).”

    People who identify as gay or lesbian are not able to become heterosexual. While some people of ambivalent sexual orientation are capable of functioning as heterosexuals, those for whom homosexual orientation has become an integral feature of their personal identity are not able to transform into heterosexuals.

    The following 2005 statement by the American Psychological Association summarizes the current scientific consensus about sexual orientation and individual volition: Human beings cannot choose their sexual orientation. Sexual orientation emerges for most people in early adolescence or late childhood without any prior sexual experience. The experience of sexual attraction and falling in love is one that individuals experience as outside their conscious control. Although we can choose whether to act on our feelings, psychologists do not consider sexual orientation to be a conscious choice.

    The near total failure of advocates of “cure” to convert homosexuals into heterosexuals obviates the halakhic significance of tracing the source of homosexuality. Gay and lesbian people are homosexual and will remain so. Even those who have attempted a “cure” have been unable – in the vast majority of cases – to change their orientation. For the halakhist, therefore, the issue of significance is not the origin of homosexual orientation, but rather the permanence of such an orientation by the time sexuality reaches consciousness.

    Whether sexual orientation is determined by nature or nurture or some combination of both does not alter the resultant orientation, whether that orientation is heterosexual, homosexual, or something in between...more: