The United Methodist Church Closes its Doors to Intelligent Design

UMC delegates work at the 2012 General Conference in Tampa, Fla.

By Donald McLaughlin Published on January 19, 2016

“Open Minds, Open Hearts, Open Doors.” So states the motto of the United Methodist Church (UMC). With a motto like that, one would think that the UMC would be one of the most welcoming of all churches and that they would welcome, say, a fresh perspective on the relationship of faith and science, and the scientific evidence for intelligent design we observe in the natural world. But if you thought that, you’d be wrong. The UMC has officially barred the Seattle-based Discovery Institute (where I’ve been a staff member) from having an information table at their upcoming quadrennial General Conference in Portland, OR this May. The reason given was that the Institute’s advocacy of intelligent design allegedly violates the UMC’s Social Principles statement on Evolution and Intelligent Design, which opposes “the introduction of any faith-based theories such as Creationism or Intelligent Design into the science curriculum of our public schools.”

In fact, Discovery Institute doesn’t advocate inserting intelligent design into public school science classrooms, and intelligent design (the idea that nature displays evidence of purpose) is based on the data of science, not faith. No matter, UMC officials refused to budge.

As a long-time United Methodist, I find the effort of some UMC officials to ban intelligent design from even being discussed at a denominational meeting both close-minded and more than a little hypocritical.

Certainly the UMC is free to include or exclude whoever they wish from their conference. However, that doesn’t mean the decision to bar Discovery Institute was right or that the UMC is being consistent in how it is approving who gets to sponsor and have information available in the exhibit hall. Two of the biggest sponsors of the conference are Home Depot and Staples, both of which have been public advocates for gay rights and same-sex marriage.

Staples was one of 30 companies signing on to an amicus brief in support of same-sex marriage to the U.S. Supreme Court in the Obergefell v Hodges decision. Regardless of where one stands on that issue, the official position of the UMC is that “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” Furthermore, UMC clergy are barred from performing or blessing same-sex unions.

Given all that, why do Home Depot and Staples get a pass when both companies have openly advocated for a position that is blatantly contrary to the UMC’s beliefs and principles? Apparently if you can pay the several thousand dollars required to be a major sponsor, the UMC is happy to look the other way. It’s sheer hypocrisy to hide behind flawed wording and an incorrect understanding expressed in the UMC’s social principles as a reason for barring Discovery Institute while admitting 2 major corporations who are in clear violation of those same principles. Apparently the motto of “Open Minds, Open Hearts, Open Doors” only applies to those who either have enough money, or, more likely, who advocate a position with which many within the UMC organizational leadership happen to agree.

It is difficult to see how the Commission on the General Conference of the UMC can justify their decision to bar Discovery Institute given their reliance on their Social Principles statements which are, at best, based on misinformation and at worst just plain wrong. Discovery Institute is urging interested parties to contact the UMC and ask them to overturn this ill-considered decision.

It’s a sad state of affairs for a denomination that proclaims “open minds, open hearts, open doors.” Too bad no one in the decision process found it in their heart to open their mind to intelligent design and open the door for Discovery Institute.

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