Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Rev. Dr. Doug Harvey's Response to My Letter

(Yesterday, Doug Harvey replied to me with a lengthy and thoughtful reply to the concerns I raised to him in the letter I posted here on Monday.  I thanked him for taking the time and courtesy to reply, and I engaged several of the points he raised.  He then proposed the idea of the DHF linking to my letter on their website, while I also published his response to me here.  I was--and am--happy to do so, and so below you will find Doug's response to me, which I have not edited in any way.  -E.A.)


Thanks for your e-mail in response to the DHF postcard. At the risk of sounding disingenuous again, I appreciate thoughtful input at any time, and you provided it.

For just the reasons you outline, I wrestled with the statement about not trying to get churches to leave the DoC. I left it in because it reflects an important reality. DHF grew out of the Disciple Renewal movement. For the first ten years of our existence, we were strictly a renewal movement within the DoC, and strongly encouraged churches to remain in the DoC in order to lift up a clear evangelical voice. We found that churches often ignored our pleas and left the DoC anyway. Many of those churches had major issues down the road because they had made a hasty decision about who they "weren't" without giving enough thought to who they were. 

We saw a need for a fellowship that could include DoC and non-DoC churches without distinction, so those churches could remain connected with more than themselves. Of course this began to look more and more disingenuous as we continued to try to be a voice within while hosting a fellowship outside the structures. Frankly, I understood the frustration of the DoC folks who saw this as manipulative and I helped lead DHF to step entirely away from the vision of bringing evangelical renewal in the DoC.

You may find this hard to believe, but I don't even know whether or not some of our churches are still in the DoC. I do know some have left because I was in touch with them through the transition. And I know a couple that have remained in the DoC because of property reversion clauses. But in the middle are churches whose relationship with the DoC is not known to me, nor do I much care. DHF is about providing relationship and resource to those churches who desire it, regardless of their connection or lack of connection to the DoC. I purchased a DoC Yearbook in Orlando, and have noticed several churches listed there that I assumed had left long ago.

I readily agree that some of our materials reflect a bias that may look like we're trying to get churches to leave. Those materials were prepared to help churches sort through the issues, and the decisions of the DoC are pretty hard to spin positively from an evangelical perspective. We've had to be pretty blunt in order to penetrate the fog of obfuscation that is generally put up when evangelicals raise questions. The recent vote on sexual identity and ministry leadership is a great example. At my first General Assembly in 1977, the issue first arose and the resolution calling for civil rights for gays was clearly an attempt to grease the skids toward an eventual decision for an open and affirming position. For thirty-six years since then, the leadership of the denomination played a game of deception with the larger church, knowing full well they would pay a terrible price in membership and money if they pursued their desired agenda. When we tried to raise the issue, they invented a category of business called "items for reflection and research," and used it to derail any honest dialogue on the issue. 

When it became apparent that nobody was reflecting and researching, they created the "Discernment Process." As you surely know, that process was half-heartedly pursued for a couple of years, then simply abandoned. It never was intended to lead to discernment, but to stall open dialogue and decision until they felt they had the votes to do what they had decided to do years before.

All this to say we have to be pretty blunt to get past the dodges the General and Regional folks use to avoid telling the simple truth. "It's inappropriate to call for any decisions on this issue because it is being discerned." And "It's a decision for the Regions to sort out." And "Don't worry about it, it won't have any effect on your local church."

At the same time, the number of Regions granting standing and ordination to openly gay candidates kept growing. Even those with express prohibitions in their policies played "Don't ask, don't tell" and ordained people they know perfectly well were gay, and then told evangelical questioners that they had never knowingly ordained any gays because no one said anything in the commission on ministry interviews.

So, yes, our materials do reflect a bias toward stating our concerns about the DoC in strong terms. But the effort is not to prescribe a particular decision, but to ask churches to quit averting their eyes and face the honest truth about the DoC. Of course, facing that truth will often lead evangelicals to the exits, but our issue is simply to put the truth out there while the denominational leaders use rhetorical dodges to avoid stating things they know are true. Good decisions (which go both ways) can only be made with facts on the table, not spin.

So, why did we send the postcards at all? Whether DHF exists or not, there is going to be a major exodus from the DoC over the next several years. After 12 years out of the DoC processes, a lot of people do not know we are here to offer our resources as they struggle with their future. We don't have a way of sorting out which congregations are aware of us, or interested in us, so we chose this shotgun approach. I did go through the mailing list and remove quite a few churches where I knew there would be no interest, but beyond that I didn't know how to target the mailing to evangelical-leaning churches and/or pastors.

Well, enough said. I hope this clarifies some of the issues you (rightly) raised. I know what something like that postcard can look like at first glance. I hope this gives a bit more clarity to our motives. I'm comfortable knowing you won't agree with everything I've said, but want to try to keep the communication lines open and as clear as possible.


  1. Thank you for sharing the other side of the story.

  2. Over a span of several years, I frequently visited the Countryside Christian Church in Kansas City, Missouri, as a guest singer for one of their Sunday adult classes, and as a member of a brief study led by a very knowledgeable lady who was a member of that church. I found much to like in that church. On at least one of those years, I heard that the congregation was the most generous supporter of the denominational offices. There are obviously many Christians in the Disciples of Christ churches. The sermons I heard there were aimed at exalting Jesus and were very well presented and heard. They were brief. They were kind. They were clear. I liked the preacher, who during my time in the city retired. He was short in stature, and a good encourager. I heard no teaching there which was anti-scriptural. I hope every Disciple church is as well taught as that one obviously was. It's the leadership of that denomination which cannot be recommended.