Controversy surrounds upcoming event at Lake Junaluska
Aug. 9, 2005
By Neill Caldwell*
LAKE JUNALUSKA, N.C. (UMNS) — This placid United Methodist retreat
center has found itself in the center of a summer storm over rental of
its facilities by the Reconciling Ministries Network, which advocates
full participation in the church by people of all sexual orientations.
E-mail and official statements have passed back and forth in recent
weeks, and church-related blogs and internet forums are buzzing about
the gathering. Several hundred participants are expected for the “Hearts
on Fire” event Sept. 2-5 at Lake Junaluska, a Southeastern Jurisdiction
ministry about 30 miles west of Asheville.
“SEJAC does not approve of or disapprove of the ‘Hearts on Fire’
conference program, said Jimmy L. Carr, executive director of Lake
Junaluska Conference and Retreat Center. “The participants in the event
will use the facilities of SEJAC and we will host them, as we do other
groups who are our guests, in a gracious way that is exemplary of the
wonderful United Methodist Church that we so love and desire to serve in
the name of Jesus Christ.”
Conservative leaders within the church have marshaled their supporters
to express dismay at the gathering being held at Lake Junaluska.
“The ‘Hearts on Fire’ conference … should not be held,” said the Rev.
James V. Heidinger II, president and publisher of Good News magazine.
“The conference will not just be advocating for change in the church’s
standards; it will include large doses of preaching and teaching which
are in direct opposition to the Scriptural norm and to the church’s
standards. That should not happen at a United Methodist conference
“Since Lake Junaluska’s own internal rules require it to rent its
facilities only to groups that share the ‘mission’ of the United
Methodist Church, it seems highly inappropriate to rent those facilities
for a rally for same-sex ‘marriage,’ homosexual clergy, and various
exotic forms of sexual expression,” said Mark Tooley, director of
UMAction, part of the Institute on Religion and Democracy.
The Rev. Troy Plummer, executive director of the Reconciling Ministries
Network, said Lake Junaluska is fulfilling its mandate as a “faithful
United Methodist retreat and conference center to serve the whole
Lake Junaluska officials are “practicing open hearts, open minds, open
doors as they continue to make disciples for Jesus Christ,” he said. “I
am perplexed by any who would confuse the love of God and grace of Jesus
Christ with closed doors, closed minds, closed hearts.”
Carr said the leadership at Lake Junaluska treated the request to rent
the facilities the same as it would a request from any other United
Methodist group. The retreat center “researched their request and found
RMN to be an affiliated caucus … of the United Methodist Church,” he
said. He cited pages 198-201 of The 2005 United Methodist Directory,
published by Cokesbury. While Reconciling Ministries, Good News and UM
Action are listed in the directory under a heading of “Affiliated
Caucuses and Ecumenical Groups,” all three organizations are unofficial
United Methodist groups.
Reconciling Ministries “is made up of a broad cross-section of the
United Methodist Church, and we understand its members are primarily
heterosexual,” Carr said. “They also plan to host many United Methodist
leaders during their event. We also discovered that RMN was allowed to
participate during the 2004 General Conference along with other
“The executive committee of SEJAC, who administers Lake Junaluska
facilities, reviewed their request and agreed for us to provide
hospitality to this group.”
The IRD’s Web site and Good News magazine have urged supporters to contact Carr and express their feelings.
The Lake Junaluska Conference and Retreat Center is known throughout
Methodism as host to a number of events and gatherings each year. The
conservative Confessing Movement, another unofficial United Methodist
group, held its annual Epworth Institute for young pastors there in
Several bishops — including Minerva Carcaño, Scott Jones, Susan
Morrison, Sally Dyck and John Schol — have indicated they plan to attend
the “Hearts on Fire” conference, Carr said. Some bishops “plan to also
participate in the Confessing Movement Convocation to be held later in
September ‘to listen and build relationships,’” he said.
Heidinger noted that bishops “are responsible for ‘carrying into effect
the rules, regulations, and responsibilities” set forth in the Book of
Discipline. “They are not to be dissenters to the church’s doctrine or
moral teachings,” he said.
According to its Web site, Reconciling Ministries Network “is a movement
of United Methodist individuals, congregations, campus ministries, and
other groups working for the full participation of all people in the
United Methodist Church.”
The debate led to an exchange of statements between Reconciling Ministries clergy members and Good News magazine.
The clergy letter, signed by 687 pastors, stated that many people “are
suffering intensely due to the current policies of the church on
homosexuality,” and that “Hearts on Fire” will be a time for healing for
those people and the church as a whole.
Heidinger wrote in response that, rather than working for the acceptance
of homosexual behavior, United Methodists should “be pouring our time
and energy into ministries that can help persons experiencing all forms
of sexual brokenness to find healing and wholeness in Christ.”
“Hearts on Fire” will feature workshops, worship and entertainment.
Speakers include the Rev. Beth Stroud, who was defrocked in December and
reinstated last April during a church legal process that resulted from
her disclosure that she is a practicing lesbian. Her case will be heard
by the United Methodist Church’s Judicial Council in October.
The United Methodist Book of Discipline affirms God’s love for
homosexuals but calls homosexual practice “incompatible with Christian
teaching.” Human rights for gays are supported in the church’s Social
Principles, but the church denies ordination to practicing homosexuals,
refuses funding for pro-homosexuality advocacy, forbids same-sex unions,
supports civil laws defining marriage as a union between man and woman,
and declares that “sexual relations are only clearly affirmed in the
*Caldwell is a freelance writer based in High Point, N.C.
News media contact: Tim Tanton, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or email@example.com.
Gay conference draws criticism (The Mountaineer)
Some hope conference promotes tolerance (The Mountaineer)
Reconciling Ministries Network
Church policy on homosexuality