Methodist advocates evolution
Methodist advocates evolution
Local layman key in changing denomination's policy
Rosa Salter Rodriguez - The Journal Gazette - 8/23/2008
A Fort Wayne man says he has finally nudged the United Methodist Church “into the 21st century” on the subject of evolution.

Al Kuelling, 67, a retired engineer trained in physics, wrote two of three proposals on evolution adopted as church policy at the denomination’s 2008 quadrennial national conference this summer in Fort Worth, Texas.

The votes capped a yearslong quest by Kuelling to have the church explicitly recognize evolution as a legitimate foundation of science and acknowledge that it is not at odds with theology.

But the endeavor at times has put Kuelling at odds with his pastor and his bishop.

“Methodism has been sidestepping the issue of evolution for quite a while now,” Kuelling says, adding he believes it had to be confronted to keep young people from leaving the church.

“I walked from my commitment to be a minister, and I walked away from the church for over a decade over this,” he says.

“Now Methodism is joining many other denominations around the world that find no conflict between religion and science.”

One of Kuelling’s proposals amends the Science and Technology section of the church’s Book of Discipline. It was approved by 80 percent of voting delegates.

It now states, in part: “We find that science’s descriptions of cosmological, geological and biological evolution are not in conflict with theology.”

The second proposal, which passed with 96 percent of the vote, was added to the church’s Book of Resolutions. It endorses The Clergy Letter Project led by David Zimmerman, an ecologist and dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Butler University in Indianapolis.

The proposal encourages Methodist pastors to sign an open letter on evolution that affirms that “the timeless truths of the Bible and the discoveries of modern science may comfortably coexist” and supports the teaching of evolution alone in schools instead of as “one theory among others.”

A third evolution resolution, advanced by a church regional body in Kansas, puts the church on record as opposing the teaching of “faith-based theories such as Creationism and Intelligent Design” in public-school science classes.

Kuelling says his resolutions were “a big rarity” because they were advanced and approved despite not coming from an official church body.

Although he is a member of First Wayne Street United Methodist Church, he developed the resolutions and attended the conference on his own, he says.

Dan Gangler, director of communication for the Indiana Area United Methodist Church, says only a small fraction of the 1,200 resolutions are introduced by individuals and even fewer pass at the committee level to be sent to the floor. Conference-goers typically trust the judgment of committees when they vote, he says.

According to his pastor, the Rev. Greg Enstrom, Kuelling was not an elected delegate and was not representing First Wayne Street church at the conference.

Enstrom, who acknowledges he and Keulling have had “some disagreements” on the issue, declines to say whether he agreed with the proposals because he had not read them as passed. He was not a conference delegate so he had no opportunity to vote on them.

But Enstrom says he is “not a creationist literalist” and adds: “I do believe that faith and science are not at odds.”

Bishop Michael Coyner of the Indiana Area United Methodist Church was reported to be on vacation by his secretary, Ed Metzler.

Coyner and Kuelling sparred over the issue in 2006, when Kuelling took out a half-page advertisement in The Journal Gazette challenging the church to provide guidance on creationism and intelligent design.

Metzler says a letter to the editor Coyner wrote then still reflects his views.

“In our church, creation and evolution are open for discussion,” the bishop wrote. “For us, creation is an issue of stewardship rather than a debate over creation vs. evolution.”

Coyner added that the church believes science and theology are “complementary rather than mutually incompatible.”

Metzler says he does not know whether the bishop signed a letter Kuelling says he sent to United Methodist bishops asking them to go on record as supporting the approved resolutions.

“I know that the bishop many times has refused to sign letters that don’t go through proper channels irregardless of how he feels about the subject,” Metzler says.

Kuelling says 47 active and retired United Methodist bishops, about 50 percent of their number, have signed the letter, but not Coyner.

He defended his Journal Gazette ad as a way of prodding church officials after a previous attempt to introduce a resolution through church channels failed. He says the proposal was not introduced for reasons that remain unclear to him.

“There are other bishops who are eager for what I’m doing, and they are saying it should have been done a long ago,” he says, adding he doesn’t think members will leave the church over the new position. He cites a survery of 3,000 United Methodists that found only about 7 percent are creationists.

Kuelling, who has worked with youth and whose wife, Judith, was a United Methodist Christian education director, says he felt he needed to press the issue because he had missed opportunities to pass along to young people his understanding of the biblical creation stories as “a metaphor.”

When a Methodist pastor cast the Bible in that light and told him many other Christians do as well, he says, he immediately felt comfortable again with the church.

If the church doesn’t acknowledge the legitimacy of evolution in science, religion comes off as “out of touch with reality” and loses credibility when it makes moral statements on areas involving science and technology,” he says.

“What we’re saying is the Bible … tells us who created the world and what we should do to care for it,” he says. “Genesis teaches about relationships and responsibility. But it does not teach science.”