From several sources and outlets have I been asked my opinion concerning the UMC and the present plan of separation. It should be noted that, in the UMC the General Conference (the governing body of the global UMC; consisting of clergy and laity alike) votes on such matters, and certainly other plans of separation will be considered this year along with the most advertised plan (on which I will be commenting in short). With that said, it would appear as though separation is imminent, one way or another.
I, personally, play no role in General Conference directly. My opinion on the matter is as a United Methodist, a United Methodist pastor, a trained theologian, and an acute social observer and commentator. On this basis is my opinion sought and, in return, offered.
First: I am thankful that, unlike the UMC, which is a Democracy in its governance, the United States is a Democratic Republic.
Last year (2019) a special session of General Conference was called and a vote was taken concerning the ordination of “openly practicing homosexuals” in the UMC. The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church states that such a lifestyle is incompatible with biblical teaching. However, this interpretation of the scriptures was being challenged, and some were living contrary to “The Book of Law of The UMC.” The votes were tallied and the majority (53%) desired to keep the historical view of The Discipline and the UMC.
Democracy simply ensures the will of the majority over the minority. In this sense, the minority, which questions the historic interpretations as antiquated, are discounted and their values further marginalized. Incidentally, a Republic assures not just that the people have a vote, but that every person’s voice matters (the reason for the Electoral College), and not just a simple majority.
Secondly: The minority (47%) in the vote last year did not accept the outcome of the democratic vote, and have spent the past year contesting – via protests, the withholding of Apportionments (the monies paid into the global and local UMC), and various other activities, etc. all in the Hope’s of nothing short of a redo – a new vote on the matter. I suppose that the aim would be to continue to vote until the desired outcome is reached.
I question the logic of this point of view. Shall we agitate and aggravate the matter until the majority somehow, someway decides to acquiesce? Do we ignore the vote and, therefore, the Discipline, making ourselves illogical for lack of first principle? In other words, how are we United Methodists if we do not submit ourselves to The Book of UM Law? We’d rather force our values onto others.
And finally: There is a sense amongst some leaders (and possibly others) that this subject is a distraction from the mission of the church. My response is, What?! If we are really concerned with God’s worldview, then how, exactly, are we distracted? I have not sensed a distraction from the mission at all. Perhaps we’re asking the wrong question. Maybe the mission itself is the real question that is not being asked or answered. Who is the church? And what is its purpose?
So, as for myself; I have no desire to question anyone’s sense of calling, regardless of lifestyle or orientation. Simply, I do not accept the notion that I am some sort of moral/ethical police. In fact, I know of no such purpose for the church in any sense or fashion. Certainly the church (in general) and individuals within it (specifically) have taken upon itself/themselves this type of role, but I firmly disagree. I understand all humanity to be the church (“In Adam all have died; in Christ all are made alive” – Romans and the Corinthian Correspondence). And if all humanity, then culturally diverse and different (which, by the way, doesn’t simply mean different skin tones, but also differing lifestyles).
I am of the simple opinion of Freedom – We are free to find our way in life with God’s grace. And it is in the context of community in which we live out this freedom. We are certainly “free” to live in isolation, but logic then questions the notion of freedom. Likewise, if everyone in our community thinks, acts, walks, talks, and smells the same, then where exactly is this freedom? And to what, or from what are we exercising this freedom, logically speaking? No, we are free to trust God to take us to where we are supposed to be. And the church should be a place to live out this freedom.
If General Conference votes to adopt the plan of separation in question – that a “Traditional Methodist Church” is created, while the UMC changes the Discipline to accept the ordination of homosexuals – I cannot, in good conscience with my understanding of God’s worldview, join with the new denomination. I would not stay within the UMC because I agree with their tactics, but because I agree with their assumed notion of freedom.
However, if such an assumption is not realized in the UMC, but a majority lording over a minority (once again), then I would be forced to revisit my decision to stay. Yet, I still could not join the new “Traditional” denomination because, by definition, freedom is in question.
Final Thoughts on the Matter
Finally, I must comment on the fact that, after struggling with this topic for years, the UMC finds no other option but a separation to answer the question. This is both disappointing and disheartening. The notion that two denominations are somehow “United” is illogical. Certainly the two can respect one another and work with each other, but please don’t insult the intelligence of the people. Perhaps, while we are renaming and rebranding things, we should use a term a friend has coined years ago – The “Untied” Methodist Church.
If voted into reality, this separation will cause each Annual Conference of the UMC (In America, usually divided by state) to vote on which denomination it belongs; as well as each local church must vote to determine its affiliation. Then, churches will have to be aligned with pastors of the same affiliation.
Other Methodist denominations could be formed out of this plan, too!
Obviously we are “untied.”