072821_MDJ_AT1

Attendees of Mt. Bethel United Methodist Church’s Pray With Hope Prayer Rally on Sunday, July 25 lift their hands over the Rev. Dr. Jody Ray and his family as they pray.

The chasm between Mt. Bethel United Methodist Church in east Cobb and the North Georgia Conference of the UMC continues to widen, but that’s not stopping Mt. Bethel congregants from gathering in prayer.

The church held a two-hour “prayer rally” Sunday night. Among the targets of those supplications was an end to the conflict between the local and the mother church.

The controversy began in the spring, when Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson of the North Georgia Conference moved to reassign Mt. Bethel’s head pastor, Jody Ray, to another position. Mt. Bethel’s lay leaders have said they would disaffiliate from the UMC entirely to retain Ray as pastor and have taken preliminary steps to do so.

In response, the leadership of the North Georgia Conference said two weeks ago it would move to seize the assets of Mt. Bethel UMC.

Many of the speakers at Mt. Bethel’s Sunday prayer service had similar messages, including that Mt. Bethel was “contending for the faith,” that its leaders were standing up for the “Biblical truth,” and that the congregation should be prepared for “spiritual warfare.”

Hundreds attended the rally, filling nearly every pew on the bottom level of the massive sanctuary, but attendees were not only from Mt. Bethel. Many traveled from churches in Gainesville and Macon, as well as local congregations.

The event featured video remarks and scripture readings from Methodist church leaders across the United States and even the globe. Comments came in from churches in Kentucky, Texas and Illinois, as well as parts of Africa, India and Russia. Most speakers said their congregation stood behind Mt. Bethel, Ray and the church leadership’s decisions, often adding that they prayed for Bishop Haupert-Johnson and the North Georgia Conference to see that Ray was in the right.

Among the night’s orators were also local church leaders, including the Rev. Clay Smith, of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church, the Rev. Mike Linch, of NorthStar Church in Kennesaw, and the Rev. Dr. Bryant Wright, of Right from the Heart Ministries in Marietta.

Wright, who attended in person, gave one of the more fiery mini-sermons of the night, saying “spiritual warfare intensifies when God is about to do something good.” The crowd responded with applause.

“Part of spiritual warfare is making a decision that you’re going to choose to be courageous and strong in the power of God, not in yourself,” Wright said. “And realize that your enemy is not the bishop, it is the devil.”

In Ray’s defiance of the North Georgia Conference and the bishop seeking to reassign him, Wright said the reverend would be remembered for “standing firm with some of the great saints of history,” against “discouragement, slander, division” and more.

During his prayer for the congregation, Wright said “we pray for the bishop of the North Georgia Conference. Only you know what’s going on in that person’s mind. Bless her heart, she’s so confused.”

That last part garnered chuckles from the audience, and at the conclusion of his remarks, a standing ovation.

Messages from videoed and live speakers ranged from straightforward and uncontroversial to, at times, startling. By far the most colorful was the Rev. Rick Bonfim, who runs a ministry by his own name out of Watkinsville, Georgia.

Bonfim, a native of Brazil, rarely followed one thought to its end and at times blurted incoherent phrases, adding at one point during his comments that he sometimes speaks in tongues.

Bonfim prompted the crowd to stand with him, clap, stomp, shout and repeat chant-like vocalizations, all of which the congregation did, though some periodically shot each other uncertain glances.

As the 22nd speaker of the prayer rally, Ray closed the event with his own comments and The Lord’s Prayer.

Ray thanked the crowd for attending and praying for the church and praised his congregation and other churches who voiced support for his as “a group of Christians who would be willing to stand for the good news of the gospel.”

Ray also said there were people in other countries, including places in Africa, who were risking their lives by gathering together to pray for Mt. Bethel, a point he said made the church’s current conflict seem much less serious. And, he pointed out, it showed “the world is watching.”

“What the world needs right now is a courageous church that’s willing to stand for what is right and what is true,” he said, “even when there’s persecution, even when there are those who speak against us.”


WHITTEN SMITTEN: Friends and colleagues of former KSU president Pamela Whitten will take note that her move to Indiana University, where she assumed the presidency of that institution July 1, hasn’t been as smooth as hoped. The Indiana Daily Student, the student newspaper at IU, reports that Whitten tested positive for COVID-19 after experiencing “mild cold symptoms” last week ... despite being vaccinated.

“Gratefully, my symptoms are mild, and I will continue to work and lead the university during this time from my home office,” Whitten wrote, per the newspaper.


APPOINTMENT: The Marietta City Council voted unanimously to reappoint Fran Sutton to the Marietta Development Authority at the last council meeting. Sutton, who has served on the board for two years, will serve as the member for Post 1 for a two-year term, expiring August 11, 2023.


CUBA NOT-LIBRE: U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, of Georgia’s 14th district, dropped by Cobb County Saturday to deliver a speech at the Georgia Teen Republicans’ annual convention at the Cobb GOP's headquarters. The controversial congresswoman had news for everybody.

“The Democrats are not an American party. They are the party of communism,” she declared. “I used to call them socialist, but once I’ve been in Washington D.C., I’m reading their bills every single week, I’m understanding and listening to what they’re saying — I don’t call it socialism anymore, I call it communism.”

Exactly what the difference is, she did not say, but she did go on to explain what she meant by “communism.”

“The same kind of communism that we’re seeing in Cuba is also the same kind of communism that has taken over the state of California,” she said.

“Just two weeks ago, when I went for a trip (to California) to have an America first rally with (Florida congressman) Matt Gaetz, we were canceled at four venues,” Greene said Saturday. “That’s communism.”

Although AT has yet to hear of summary, closed-door trials of government critics in California — or their exile — if you take Greene, a tell-it-like-it-is politico, at her word, Cuba = California.

Greene will likely revisit some of the same talking points Aug. 14, when she returns as the guest speaker of the Cobb GOP.

That event was moved to Roswell Street Baptist Church to accommodate the expected larger-than-usual crowd. Tickets are $25 for members and $30 for non-members and can be purchased online at cobbcountyrepublicanparty.wildapricot.org. The event will begin at 8:30 a.m.

Other speakers at Saturday’s convention included Jake Evans and Harold Earls, both of whom are running to unseat by Democrat Lucy McBath, of Georgia’s 6th Congressional District. On Tuesday, the Atlanta Tea Party endorsed Evans.

Follow Thomas Hartwell on Twitter at twitter.com/MDJThomas.

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