A few weeks ago, Hal Conklin’s mayoral campaign heralded endorsements from several dozen Christian “faith leaders and members.”
The press release quoted the Rev. Dr. Denny Wayman, superintendent of the Free Methodist Church (FMC), where Conklin worships:
“I am confident,” Wayman said, “that Hal will create the environment where human and spiritual values can thrive.”
Which raised an intriguing question: Whose spiritual values?
Politics of religion. Conklin’s religious endorsements are not surprising.
Prominent in his local church, on the Mesa, he also ranks high in the FMC’s national hierarchy, as chair of its board of administration.
He shares his “Christian worldview” widely, through Cinema in Focus, a column cowritten with Rev. Wayman, presenting film reviews as “spiritual and social commentary.”
More surprising, however, was a perusal of a recent edition of the FMC’s Book of Discipline, described on the national organization’s website as its “official statement of doctrine and governance.”
Distinct from the United Methodist Church, FMC is a smaller denomination, headquartered in Indianapolis.
Sections of its stated ideology align with that of conservative Christian activists spurring the fiercely contested Republican push in Washington to undo laws and regulations governing abortion, among other cultural issues.
According to the Book of Discipline:
• Abortion “must be judged to be a violation of God’s command, ‘You shall not commit murder,’” except to save the life of a mother.
• Gay marriage is proscribed and “homosexual intimacy” is “immoral,” included on a list of “unnatural sexual behavior” such as incestuous abuse, child molestation, homosexual activity, and prostitution.
• “The concept of special creation” should be presented “in, or along with, courses, textbooks, library materials and teaching aids” providing instruction about evolution.
What Hal says. As a political matter, Democrat Conklin is running as a liberal — directly competing for progressive votes against City Councilmembers Cathy Murillo and Bendy White amid a five-person race, so such religious pronouncements raise key questions:
Does Conklin accept Book of Discipline positions on highly charged political issues? How would he, as mayor, separate his personal role as a national FMC leader from his political actions and pronouncements?
Conklin stressed that his faith rests not on the FMC’s Book of Discipline but on its overarching, Gospel-inspired “five freedoms.”
Roughly characterized, these first principles are racial equality, gender equality, dignity and justice for the poor, shared clergy-laity power within the church, and freedom to worship inspired by “the Holy Spirit.”
Consistent with these core values, he said, each FMC church and each member must judge the Book of Discipline’s “guidance.” His choices, he said, focus him on civil rights, community service, and social justice.
“It’s not the Catholic Church, or other denominations where they say, ‘This is the way you’re going to do it,’” he said. “You have to decide.”
“Santa Barbara’s [church] chose to do it its own way, and Kansas City chose to do it another way,” he added. “Nobody questions whether your answer is the same as my answer. You’re the one that has to be accountable for how you choose to interpret it.”
Question of choice. As mayor, Conklin said, the FMC doctrine would be irrelevant because “the City Council doesn’t relate to those issues.”
“My personal beliefs have nothing to do with these particular issues,” he said. “The city lives under a rule of law. Whatever the law, it has to be protected.”
Julie Mickelberry, vice president of community engagement at Planned Parenthood’s Central Coast chapter, disagreed, without reference to Conklin.
“The reality is that city councils have a significant amount of influence on issues and agencies that impact women’s access to reproductive health care and safe, legal abortion,” she said.
For example, Mickelberry noted a $10,000 grant Planned Parenthood receives through the city; the 1995 “bubble ordinance,” protecting patients who access health centers providing abortions from “harassment”; and a recent council resolution opposing federal efforts to disallow Medicaid patients from using Planned Parenthood health centers.
Conklin said he esteems Planned Parenthood and backs settled abortion law.
Is he pro-choice or pro-life?
“Neither of those simplistic but highly charged political terms describes me,” he said.
“I would describe myself as a ‘democratic libertarian’ regarding public policy (keep the government out of legislating personal behavior; each person has to make a personal moral or ethical decision) …
…“And a ‘classical pacifist’ regarding my personal values (I would not personally choose to hurt any form of life including participating in war except for self-defense, prescribing the death penalty, hunting for sport, choosing abortion except for saving a mother’s life …)” (emphases his).
Conklin also said that he does not oppose gay marriage — “It’s the law of the land” — noting that as mayor in the 1990s, he hired a gay chief of staff.
“I love people,” he said, “regardless of what their backgrounds are.”
For more on this topic, visit the website of Jerry Roberts’s Newsmakers public affairs program at newsmakerswithjr.wixsite.com.