Beware of False Prophets

An old adversary of mine has been much in the news lately. Although I never met him personally, I knew about the Reverend Greg Dell when he pastored the Euclid Avenue United Methodist Church in Oak Park. Our paths crossed briefly during the showdown at the Village Hall over the proposed Domestic Partnership Ordinance. That night I spoke before he did, expressing my opposition to the ordinance and reaffirming that although we don’t hate anyone, Calvary Memorial Church opposes homosexuality because it is condemned by the Word of God. He came to the microphone a few minutes later, acknowledging something I had said, and then in a most winning way, with a cordial smile on his face, affirmed his support for gay rights as being fully consistent with his calling as a pastor. My name and his were linked on one other occasion. When he left Oak Park to take his present pastorate in Chicago, one of our local papers published a long article praising his accomplishments. In the course of the article he mentioned my name (and the name of our church), and if memory serves, he paid us the compliment of being the leaders of the conservative religious movement in the village. I think he said it was good for the village to have both viewpoints represented.

In due course he began his ministry at the Broadway United Methodist Church in Chicago. I lost track of him until last September when he made news for performing a “holy union” of two homosexual men. The Methodist Book of Discipline explicitly forbids its ministers to perform such a ceremony. Rev. Dell knew this and proceeded to break church law anyway. This led the bishop of the Northern Illinois Conference (who sympathizes with Reverend Dell) to bring charges against him. Last weekend a court consisting of 13 Methodist ministers found him guilty (by a 10-3 vote) of violating church law. They then suspended him from serving as a pastor in his church unless he recanted and promised not to perform any more “holy unions.” He refused, which means that he will be out of a job by early July.

Several comments come to mind. First, I do not doubt his sincerity. Second, he deserved his punishment and should have been defrocked and excommunicated. Third, there is a vast gap between what he believes and what we believe about the Bible, about God, about Jesus, and about salvation. We aren’t playing on the same team and we certainly aren’t following the same leader. Fourth, the pastors who voted to convict him did the right thing. Fifth, the Methodist Church will continue to be in turmoil until it decides to believe the Bible without compromise. Sixth, Greg Dell is a likeable man with an insidious message. As Jesus said, “Beware of false prophets.”

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