Glide United Methodist Church in San Francisco, California, is Methodist in name only, having deliberately and systematically distanced itself from the governance and theological beliefs held by the UMC even while clinging to the name United Methodist. Its mission statement fails to even mention God or Christ: GLIDE Memorial Church believes in a radically inclusive, just and loving community mobilized to alleviate suffering and break the cycles of poverty and marginalization. Its name is from Lizzie Glide, who in 1930 called the church to be “A house of prayer for all people.” The Glide Foundation and Glide Memorial United Methodist Church were established by Lizzie GLIDE in honor of her late husband, Joseph, as an outlet for her spirituality and to demonstrate her commitment to those in need.
The Church and Foundation was transformed in the 1960s with the arrival of the Rev. Cecil Williams, Janice Mirikitani and the changing community. The times were reflective of the spirit at Glide then and it continues to be a congregation on the edge to this day. For some 80 years, the congregation has fostered an identity as a spiritual home and refuge for people from many diverse backgrounds and spiritual traditions and a provider of social services -- funded by the Glide Foundation -- to the people of the Tenderloin and San Francisco.
The leadership connection:
What is interesting is that Karen Oliveto was senior pastor of Glide from 2008 until 2016, when the Western Jurisdiction UMC elected her as a bishop for their region -- despite her being an openly partnered lesbian activist -- a flagrant violation of the UMC’s ban on ordaining “self-avowed practicing homosexuals.” Many have questioned the legitimacy of Oliveto’s election and her status as but her election played upon her time as senior pastor of Glide. Interestingly enough, there was a decline of more than 1/3 in attendance while membership numbers claimed to have increased from nearly 12,000 to over 13,000 during Oliveto’s tenure, actual attendance dropped from 3,000 to 1,899.
There are theological issues:
UMC Bishop Carcaño addressed an open letter to the California-Nevada Conference, outlining the theological issues within Glide she found to be troubling. She described Glide’s “Sunday Celebrations” as “uplifting concerts,” which “lack the fundamentals of Christian worship.” She went on to write that the congregants don’t want the church to be United Methodist or Christian in its practices. According to her, baptisms are performed “in the name of the people rather than from a Christian understanding of Baptism” and Holy Communion was abandoned for a number of years before being reintroduced, “with much resistance,” but only outside of the Sunday Celebrations.
There are funding questions:
Bishop Carcaño said Williams keeps control through his handpicked selection of individuals serving on the Glide Foundation board. The foundation, running on a $12 million budget, provides social services such as meals, healthcare, support for single mothers, and training for unemployed adults. These are indubitably good things, but these works have eclipsed theological teaching. According to Jenny Strasburg, a writer for SF Gate, the “Glide Foundation runs the church.”I might add that foundations in effectively control many religious institutions, even, perhaps, some Lutheran institutions, since they have the financial assets and control funding decisions. He who rules the purse rules its owner. Surely there is room to question how the influence of money has affected decisions in the Church. In this case even the secular media can see that the church is but the front for a foundation that has all the cash.
So..... will they stay or will they go? Some may not want to see high profile congregations like this one leave or be kicked out -- bad PR to be sure -- but I wonder what the damage is to the integrity of the confession of faith when denominations allow or refuse to discipline such egregious offenders to the creedal and liturgical identity of their church. Could it be that any church body would be worse off with those who flaunted their disagreement than they would be without such groups? Something to ponder. . . In any case, this congregation has long ago banished anything but a nominal identity as United Methodist. As troubling as that is, it is even more troubling when a denomination chooses its higher leaders from such groups on the fringes of their identity.