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A Tale of Two Churches
Globalism - Ecumenism
Tuesday, December 30, 2014
Wendy Wippel

I hope all reading this had a very merry Christmas (I know I did), but it’s time to move on. Because as much as I love Christmas (and Christmas music, and Christmas cookies, and Christmas presents) Jesus never told us to remember His birth.  He told us to remember His death.

Over 1600 megachurches (meaning an average weekly attendance over 2000) currently exist in the US. The Hartford Institute for Religion Research, actually, lists them. Glide Memorial Church in San Francisco (weekly attendance more than 3000, and the largest church operation in US history) curiously, does not appear on their list.  And for a very good reason, to my way of thinking.

Glide Memorial was founded by Methodist Lizzie Glide, wife of a San Francisco cattle Baron. Lizzie, in 1929, bought a corner lot in a then fashionable area on the southern slope of Nob Hill in San Francisco, and founded Glide Methodist church.  Over time, however, as the district declined, the mostly wealthy members of the congregation moved up the hill, and the area around the church filled with the city’s poor, with emigrants from every nation, and with saloons and prostitutes.  Now known as the Tenderloin District, the formerly upscale neighborhood is now considered the city’s toughest locale, known for being home to flophouses and whorehouses, with drugs, porn, and sexual favors of every persuasion offered in its streets.  And as the neighborhood deteriorated, Glide Memorial Church dwindled to just a few dozen members, all elderly, and all white.

Enter Cecil Williams, Methodist minister and graduate of Southern Methodist University, who, in Kansas City, had pastored a black church from 50 to more than 800 members. Donald Trippitt, (then Methodist bishop of San Francisco) in an attempt to revitalize Glide Memorial, asked Williams in 1963, to consider becoming pastor.  Williams came to take a look, admitting that “by reputation, the Tenderloin was a filthy, seedy, crime-ridden hellhole that nobody wanted to visit.”, and admitting that his walk through the neighborhood to his interview with the bishop confirmed everything he had heard. But Williams had always dreamt of a “diverse congregation” with “all the colors of the rainbow” and “all the roles and lifestyles and sexual preferences in the universe”.

And he knew that “The spirit we call God dwelled in each of us” was just “tamped down” in the Tenderloin’s residents. “Under oppressed conditions”, he thought, “when you’re told you’re unworthy by the church and society, you can’t be fully human in your spirituality. You can’t see how the spirit around you affirms your humanity, wants you to be free.”

And Cecil envisioned a different kind of church.  “One day, I thought, people would see the poor making their own choices about their own healing. They’d see addicts, parolees, homeless, and the mentally ill managing their own apartment buildings, their own food distribution, their own job training, health care, and community organizing."

Bishop Trippitt, meeting Cecil at the door, said, “It’s pretty rough out there, isn’t it?” But Cecil saw the church he wanted to create. “It’s magnificent,” he said. 

And create it he did.  Calling himself Minister of Liberation, Cecil Williams went on to shape Glide Memorial into a church “radically inclusive, just and loving community mobilized to alleviate suffering and break the cycles of poverty and marginalization”. A church all about inclusion. A church where “people of all races, ethnic backgrounds, cultures, social classes, ages, faiths, and sexual orientations join together at every Sunday Celebration to experience the energy of spiritual liberation coupled with the fusion of jazz, blues and gospel".  

Cecil founded a Council on Religion and the Homosexual in 1964. Since then, as one of the fastest growing Methodist churches, with a membership of nearly 12,000 and with its overriding focus on inclusion and meeting the needs of the surrounding community,  Glide Memorial is widely regarded as a model for the modern Christian church, providing   

  • 87 various social service programs.
  • Three meals daily, to as many as 300 people, a total of nearly 100,000,000 meals a year.
  • 100,000 hours of licensed childcare
  • After-school programming to over 325 clients in 2007.
  • Emergency supplies to 2,190 individuals in 2006.
  • 5,707 shelter beds, and help for permanent housing
  • HIV testing, mental and primary health care, and women's programs
  • Crisis intervention
  • An after-school program, creative arts and mentoring for youth, literacy classes, computer training, job skills training
  • Drug and alcohol recovery programs
  • Free legal services for the homeless
  • Case management and more.

Their choir has appeared on TV, and has released nine albums.

Deservedly, the Glide Foundation was rated a Top Non-Profit Organization by Philanthropedia.org and has been widely lauded for their help in Tenderloin by celebrities like Warren Buffet, Maya Angelou, and Oprah Winfrey.

And Bill Clinton.

In fact, people come from every state to Glide, in order to experience the Sunday Celebration or to assist with the meal service or other projects. It’s become kind of a site of pilgrimage for those who believe that the modern face of Christianity should be service and inclusion.  Don’t get me wrong.  The level of philanthropy at Glide Memorial is amazing. And none of that is a bad thing.

But there is a “rest of the story”.  The Glide website list of their programs includes, “small groups on meditation and yoga, recovery circles, the GLIDE Pride Team, groups for lesbian, trans, gay, bi and queer individuals, teams devoted to social justice and racial justice and more. … there is a place for you here at GLIDE.” The site goes on to say that “If you have an idea for a group you think would be a good fit here at GLIDE, let us know!”  Ummm… Feminists Against Israel?  Academia Defense fund? 

If those are the small groups, what in the world would the sermons look like?

Fortunately we don’t have to speculate.  The many reviews of Glide online, by both admirers and critics, tell us.

It’s all about love.  Love of your fellow man and of ourselves because we’re such great Christians by loving your fellow man. Sermons about self-actualization, so you can love yourself. 

Services, according to the reviews, consist of the church band (playing a variety of music), over an hour of updating the congregation on the service opportunities, and a plea for more money so more people can be helped. 

Not a word about God. Except for statements about love like “Jesus’ love comes through Buddha and Mohammed”.  

Here’s the deal.  Buddha and Mohammed did not die for your sins.  Neither did Brahma, Vishnu, or Shiva.

Or Joseph Smith. 

Christians in loving their neighbors, ultimately reached its pinnacle, not when he fed the poor or healed the sick, but when he stretched out his arms on the cross, and gave his life as a ransom for many. (Matthew 20:28)

Cecil Williams, shortly after assuming the pastorship of Glide Memorial, removed the cross from the church, calling it a symbol of judgment and condemnation.

He calls himself the Minister of Liberation. Apparently liberation from moral absolutes and biblical truth.

What was it Jesus said?

Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin. And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever. Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.” (John 8:34-36)

Many of Glide’s fans call it the closest thing to a real picture of Jesus on earth.

Those of us who have been saved by the blood Christ shed? We know better.

About Wendy Wippel

Last week: Born of the Virgin Mary?



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