I try to find goodness in the worst situations. That is just the kind of guy I am. So it is in that spirit that I say the holy wars taking place at Mt. Bethel United Methodist Church in East Cobb these days make the Cobb County Republican Party look like a group of day campers holding hands and singing “Kumbaya.”
There are three sides to the Mt. Bethel dispute: Those pushing for disaffiliation from the United Methodist Church; those who oppose the move and mine, which I will get to momentarily.
After a couple of columns discussing the controversy, I received a note from Donna Lachance and Fred Graff, representing a group of church members called Friends of Mt. Bethel UMC, asking to present their side. They oppose disaffiliation and told me why and I passed along their comments.
Fair enough. But not fair enough for Larry Dougherty, who says he is a 34-year member of the church and that he represents “a large contingent of Mt. Bethel parishioners, many times larger than the group Lachance and Graff claim to represent.”
Dougherty says, “We are those who hold a belief that can be described as historically orthodox Christianity. Our group supports the original understandings passed down by the Apostles and the church fathers, e.g. the Trinity, the atonement of sins through Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection, the inerrancy of scripture, etc. We are tired of being misrepresented by the liberal media. We have found it necessary to speak out because of the many false claims that have been stated.”
He starts with one of several complaints about the column, saying, “You began your article by stating every story has two sides. You then proceeded to favor just one side.” Notwithstanding that the first five paragraphs of the column stated clearly – I thought –the disaffiliation argument accurately.
Dougherty says, “You offer no objective evidence that their claims should be accepted as true but you write on as though it is an accurate representation of what has occurred. It is not.” I wrote what Friends of Mt. Bethel UMC say are their concerns and will assume now that what Mr. Dougherty claims to be an accurate representation can be accepted as true. It works both ways.
“In your article,” he continues, “you reference that Lachance and Graff’s group has stated they have been treated poorly.” Lachance and Graff claim when members interested in discussing both sides of the issue have stood in church meetings to ask questions they have been met with “boos, catcalls, insults and been compared to Nazis.”
Dougherty says, “They said to you: ‘It frankly frightened us. It would not be a stretch to imagine these rabid supporters of Jody (Ray) and the status quo driving by our house at night to deface our property, or worse.’” He asks, “You allowed them to characterize supporters of our lay leadership and ministers as ‘rabid’ without challenge!?” Actually Lachance and Graff didn’t say that. They quoted from a letter they had received from a church member who said that.
“I have been in many of these meetings and this is not an accurate description of what has taken place,” he says. “Individuals with opposing views were treated with respect and given time to express their viewpoints. Often, they were given more time than those not in support of the Bishops actions.”
Dougherty goes on to say, “Additionally, you allowed them to insert an ‘imagined’ circumstance of ‘defacing our property or worse’. Why didn’t you challenge that? Did it happen? No, it did not. But in your article you did not even ask. You just let them state it as though it would be a reasonable concern.” Yes, I did. A “reasonable concern” is in the eye of the beholder.
Dougherty asks, “Am I to assume you are a christian (sic) because you choose to use bible verses as advice for all to consider. If so, I suggest you take note that the bible (sic) has something to say about giving False Witness.”
“If you are a Christian,” he says, “try using facts and then substantiate them with evidence.” Whether or not I am a Christian, I will leave to a Higher and Better Source than we mere mortals.
So, now you have two sides of the Mt. Bethel dispute as told by – well – two sides of the dispute. Which gets me to my side, finally. No matter which side you are on, what is going on at Mt. Bethel and within the North Georgia Conference is abhorrent, embarrassing and so very sad.
In my opinion, Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson shares much of the blame. She is the CEO and the buck starts and stops with her and her management and/or mismanagement of the situation. As for a number of the congregants, their words and deeds are to Christian behavior as grapes are to Grape Nuts Flakes. When I think of what is going on at Mt. Bethel, I can only think of the Gospel of John, Chapter 11, Verse 35: “And Jesus Wept.”