Breaking up is hard, but right thing for the UMC

By Jack Jackson, Special Contributor…

After years of debate over progressive views of lesbian and gay ordination and marriage, the United Methodist Church reaffirmed its traditional stance at the 2012 General Conference in Tampa, Fla. Due to the UMC’s growth in Africa and Asia and decline in Europe and North America, many progressives fear the denomination will retain current prohibitions around LGBT inclusion for years to come. Advocates of inclusion are, therefore, left with four choices of how to proceed: covenanting to partner with the majority (whether or not it reflects a progressive vision), leaving the denomination for progressive ones, civil disobedience, or starting a conversation for an equitable division of the UMC.

Jack Jackson

This summer, the Western and Northeastern Jurisdictions, along with numerous pastors and churches in other jurisdictions, chose civil disobedience. While calling for noncompliance to the Book of Discipline heartens many progressives, it may destroy the possibility of their progressive Wesleyan vision coming to fruition. Of the four options, I propose that for missional reasons the best alternative for progressives is to begin a conversation about an equitable division of the denomination. By missional I mean a vibrant community of churches that lives its corporate understanding of Christ’s call to ministry in the world.

But let’s look at all four options. The first, to stay in covenant with the UMC while working toward inclusion, is the one most progressives chose over the last 30 years. Despite the demographic shifts mentioned above which indicate United Methodism will retain its theological stance against inclusion, some progressives will choose unity over protest or division. But this is increasingly untenable for many progressives, as evidenced by their recent embrace of the second and third options.

The second option is to leave, or never join, the UMC in favor of progressive, fully inclusive denominations. While it is difficult to quantify the popularity of this option, I know many laity and seminarians who have changed denominational affiliation because of the UMC’s lack of inclusion. Even at General Conference, I talked with people who said they were tired of the conversation, concerned about the poor prospects for change and were leaving for other denominations. My suspicion is that many people simply don’t become United Methodist because of the ongoing conflict over inclusion: progressives because of the UMC’s lack of inclusion; and traditionalists because they don’t want to be part of a denomination that’s in constant turmoil over the issue.

The third option for progressives, one increasingly in play, is civil disobedience. The growing appeal of this was evidenced this summer in three acts: retired Bishop Melvin Talbert’s call to the California-Pacific Conference to act as if denominational prohibitions do not exist; the Western Jurisdiction’s “Statement of Gospel Obedience”; and the Northeastern Jurisdiction’s call to work against the Discipline when conscience dictates. Many progressives now choose to defy General Conference when they believe it acts unjustly and unbiblically.

Destructive option

Yet exercising this option, for a number of reasons, may destroy the possibility for a more progressive vision of Christian mission to flourish in the UMC.

First, progressives don’t seem to have the resources to both stem the tide of decline nationwide and work towards inclusion. The UMC in the West and Northeast is retreating at an alarming rate. Choosing disobedience means resources of time, energy and money will continue to flow to the debate instead of bearing down on the reasons behind the UMC’s plummeting membership. If the UMC is to survive we must focus on the critical problems that plague our denomination. Yet it is the belief that inclusion is a justice issue, worth any cost, along with a belief that time is on progressives’ side, which justifies to some their advocacy of civil disobedience.

Second, there is little if any chance the denomination will become inclusive over the next generation. Africa and Asia, where the UMC is growing, voted almost 100 percent in support of current language. Even if 25 percent of these regions voted for inclusion in the coming years, a highly speculative assumption, General Conference as a whole would still vote to retain current prohibitions. While progressives may grow as a percentage of the UMC in North America, they almost certainly will not grow globally.

Therefore, after another generation of fighting, progressives will be little, if any, closer to making the UMC inclusive. But with 30 additional years of diverted resources and of progressives leaving the UMC for other denominations, the opportunity for a vibrant progressive vision of Christian mission in the UMC will have faded. Progressives will have a sense of pride in fighting the fight, but the result will be a shell of a progressive movement within the UMC. Time is no longer on the progressives’ side.

Third, the civil disobedience option ignores the reality that many progressives are choosing the second option of leaving the UMC or never entering it. People who might have chosen to live out their call to ministry or membership in the UMC are actively looking for, or have already moved to, other denominations. Many young progressives care about the LGBT inclusion, but are not willing to fight in a denomination they see as unfaithful. The longer progressives live in this third option of civil disobedience, the more their future lifeblood drains away.

Fourth, many advocates of civil disobedience ignore, or seem unaware of, the way many traditionalists will respond if current prohibitions are overturned. It is impossible to give percentages, but a significant number of traditionalists will not be part of an inclusive denomination. Were the UMC, either in the United States or globally, to become progressive on LGBT ordination and marriage, many traditionalists would simply exit for new or existing denominations (Wesleyan or otherwise). The result would be an enormous financial and material burden to progressives who remain. Let’s imagine only 10 percent of North American membership were to leave over a few years. The resulting financial burden would overwhelm the current apportionment system, crippling the UMC infrastructure.

These reasons make the choice for civil disobedience a destructive option with little chance of establishing a sustainable, progressive vision of United Methodist mission.

True endgame

If what progressives desire is a vibrant Wesleyan movement rooted in progressive values, especially as they relate to LGBT ordination and marriage, as opposed to an inclusive UMC at any cost, I propose a fourth option. Let’s begin serious discussion about dividing from one UMC to at least two new, distinct denominations.

This conversation would of course have to navigate many significant issues. They would include property (local church, Annual Conference, Jurisdictional Conference and denominational property), clergy pensions and seminaries, to name but a few. Other issues—such as the fact that the progressive/traditionalist divide is not purely geographic as a number of congregations and clergy in the West are rather traditionalist, while many progressives find their home in the Southeast—will also be problematic. Furthermore, the majority of the UMC that tries to live in the middle may be hesitant to claim a home in either a progressive or traditional vision of United Methodism.

Nevertheless, out of missional necessity, and in the light of the denomination’s continued decline, it is time for a conversation to begin on an equitable split of the UMC.

Beginning the conversation acknowledges the true endgame of our current direction: division. Progressive and traditionalist visions of human sexuality are simply incompatible. Most of Protestantism recognizes this. We can argue all we want, but there is no solution to our theological quandary that offers unity, common visions of Christian mission and an ability to focus on the deep systemic issues which plague the UMC.

Starting this conversation will require humility from progressives and traditionalists alike. Progressives will have to realize that time is not on their side and ask for an equitable division, or at least be given the chance to create a new Methodist denomination that reflects their progressive values. They will have to recognize that traditionalists could simply leave the denomination were progressives to succeed, and that their departure would leave a financially unsustainable UMC.

Traditionalists in turn will need to recognize that equitable division, or allowing progressives to take appropriate assets and form a new progressive denomination, is actually in their best interests. Not allowing a split means a generational fight that they may win, but which will drain their already declining resources for years to come. United Methodism, even its most traditionalist vision, is barely holding its own in the United States. Turning resources towards a vibrant missional future, instead of continuing the fight, will allow traditionalists to focus on the broader mission to which they feel called.

We’ve reached gridlock. The UMC continues its  decline and there is no solution to the stalemate over human sexuality. Division may provide space for the Holy Spirit to bless one or both visions. If Christ’s mission is our goal, and if progressives and traditionalists love our church, then it is our vision of mission, not unity, which must be our prize.

The Rev. Jackson is E. Stanley Jones Assistant Professor of Evangelism, Mission and Global Methodism at Claremont School of Theology and an ordained elder in the Florida Conference.

Special Contributor

This story was written by a special contributor to The United Methodist Reporter. You may send your article submissions to
editor@circuitwritermedia.com
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Join the conversation....

  1. methodistpie says:

    The wisdom and insight of this commentary saddens me–but it's the most honest assessment I've read since General Conference. It's time someone raised the issue of "endgame." Frankly, I think we've already split, per the WJ nullification of the Book of Discipline. Not blaming anybody. It is what it is. But that makes it no less sad.

    • mbollwinkel says:

      Dr. Jackson has articulated something with clarity and even-handedness that has been on United Methodist minds for years. His core assertion needs to be heard. Continuing legislative conflict between the progressive and traditionalist camps of our denomination will only diminish the effective ministry of both. For the purpose of vital ministry wouldn't it be better for each to go their separate ways?

      However, Dr. Jackson fails to consider the option adopted by two of our sister denominations. Both the North American Episcopal and Presbyterian USA denominations have agree to accept regional autonomy over the issues of LGBT inclusion in order to maintain institutional unity and avoid costly and time consuming splits. It may be a pipe-dream that the traditionalist voting block majority in our General Conference would ever agree to some form of regional autonomy on these issues but wouldn't that be better than years and years of negotiations over property and pensions?

      Despite significant doctrinal and power conflicts Paul and Peter were able to agree to co-exist by adopting a form of "regional autonomy"; "…Peter gets Jerusalem and Palestine, Paul gets the Gentile world as long as he sends back apportionments…" (Acts 15). Why can't we?

      • Paul & Peter were not arguing over human sexuality. UMC please do not give in to the work of the evil one. STAND on the infallible WORD OF GOD!!!!!!

      • The split between Peter and Paul wasn’t over something that Scripture defines as wrong. I really don’t think I’m a homophobe, not scared of them, but do read the Book and see the practice condemned. I think Peter and Paul would be in agreement with this.

        The Traditionalist simply are following our age old guidelines that were in place long before any Discipline was written. The Standard that every Discipline written by Methodists from John Wesley on have said was our guiding light!

        Not sure who the progressives are following. Their own light? Angel of light?

      • Thomas Coates says:

        The movements by TEC and the PCUSA have caused splits as well. It’s tragic. I think of the LGBTQ children and youth growing up in the UMC, if there is an official split, then LGBTQ children and youth will still be growing up in conservative UM churches– but without an affirming voice (even a small one–this is what’s happened in churches that left the PCUSA and TEC, for example). Splitting doesn’t solve the issue, it just punts it to when those LGBTQ youth grow up in a conservative Methodist denomination and seek full inclusion within that denomination as well. Although it’s just as likely they’d leave the church altogether due to how they’re treated.

  2. rick holmes says:

    i agree that this is probably the best solution is an equitable division of the UMC.

  3. I read this article after reading a survey today from Gallup that nationally 3.4% of people surveyed self reported that they were LBGT. Approximately one third are non-Caucasian and this percentage was geographically consistent.
    The percentage of LGBT persons reported by Gallup is similar to surveys taken over the past 20 or 30 years and differs significantly only from the long outdated Kinsey report estimate of 10%.

    I am mystified by the progressive movement that will ultimately destroy the Methodist church through any of the four options outlined by Jack only to legitimatize such a small percentage of the population through ordination and marriage. Why not continue as we are and put all of this effort and passion behind Hispanic and African American outreach? We are a predominately Caucasian denomination, failing to reach nearly half of our parishes. We are not going to stem the decline of the Methodist Church by ordaining and marrying LGBT persons and will likely accelerate the decline if we do. On the other hand, learning to effectively reach persons of other races and languages could indeed turn the tide!

    • This is by far the best piece I've read on why we need to split. It's not out of anger. And it's certainly not just over our divided views on homosexuality. It's a matter of justice. It doesn't really matter what percentage of the population is LGB or T. Progressive Christians are convinced that this is one of the premiere justice issues of our time, an issue over which conservatives refuse to budge. Welcoming gays and lesbians into full membership in our churches, baptizing them, ordaining them and presiding at their weddings is the just thing to do.

      But there are also a number of other issues that surfaced at GC 2012 that are just underneath our differences over homosexuality. Is God's grace available to all? Do we use historical-critical methods to understand scripture?

      Thanks, Jack, for putting together such a cogent argument. I'm pastor of a large progressive congregation in Texas. What are our next steps?

    • Counting those people who self identify as part of the LGBT community is misleading. The best example I can come up with was a day in our church where the topic was divorce. The pastor asked all of us affected by divorce to stand up. Most of the congregation stood. And very few of them had actually been divorced. But their parents, children, cousins, aunts and uncles, friends and colleagues had. People stood because they had witnessed the suffering and empathized and tried to help.

      I do not identify as part of the LGBT community. I am married to a man and we have children.
      We have very dear friends who are members of the community. We are in favor of inclusion. The people we love, some related to us are members of that community, and to speak only for myself, I believe that inclusion is the only just thing. Polling is an excellent tool, but it is only a tool, and fallible. Statistics can lie, if you haven’t asked the right questions. I believe the numbers are greater than you think. If we recall the parable of the lost sheep, how can we look at an issue based on the numbers alone?

  4. John Battern says:

    I liken this to our UM stance of divorce. We believe husbands and wives should work to stay together, but we recognize that at times there are irreconcilable differences. When this happens, while tragic, the best option is divorce.

    I'm reminded of the old Carpenter's song

    We go on hurting each other
    We go on hurting each other
    Making each other cry, hurting each other
    Without ever knowing why

    We've hurt each other long enough, it's time to go our separate ways.

  5. Thank you for your bold statement, Jack. I believe you are correct. A genuine dialogue should begin. What we have now obviously isn't healthy or sustainable.

  6. progressiveevangelic says:

    I registered with UM Reporter just to leave a comment. I'm 29 years old. Female. White. Heterosexual. Raised in Tucson, Berkeley, Phoenix, Fairfield, San Jose. College in Santa Cruz. Then lived in San Francisco and Berkeley. Proud Sacramento resident for 5 years. Entire family in Kansas. A 14th generation birthright Friend, born into the Evangelical Friends Church. United Methodist since I was around 3. Daughter of deceased Elder in the United Methodist Church (CA-NV Conference), Dennis M. Taber. Born Again when I was 26 years old and encountered Jesus Christ in a jail I was visiting for work. Super Fan of John Wesley. Passionate believer in LGBT equality. I don't believe the UMC is at the point of separation. I want the dialogue to continue. I think both sides have work to do. For some on the left – I pray they actually evangelize in their own communities. For some on the right – I pray they tone down some of the righteousness. I don't mean to proof-text here, but I offer up Mathew 7:16 as something that often pops into my head all the time when thinking about this vital issue.

    Respectfully, Caroline Taber

  7. revnicole says:

    I think this is thoughtful and I appreciate how well it lays out various paths. But I had an experience this week that is causing me to think about this again. I attended The American Academy of Family Physicians Congress of Delegates. They have been struggling with issues around supporting civil marriage rights for same sex couples. They are, as physicians, a pretty traditional group with traditional values and yearly they hear testimony about this and debate. But this year they passed the motion and it was due to the fact that overall younger doctors find this to be a non-issue and worked to make it happen. Took them years but these young doctors just kept at it—Just gave me something to think about as I think about the UMC and its future and the place of younger laity and clergy in this discussion.

  8. Who would have thunk it? I completely agree with my Progressive brother. Our positions are incompatible, and neither side can compromise with good conscience. Can we not do better than fight another 40 years? Let's separate with mutual respect and fairness. As an evangelical Methodist, I can respect the Progressive position on homosexuality, but I can never deny my understanding that the Scripture teaches such practice is sin. Evangelicals and Progressives can do more for Christ separately than together.

  9. Thank you Jack Jackson and The Methodist Reporter for the courage to come forward and so clearly lay out the obvious… the overwhelming "UMC White Elephant"… Wesleyan Methodists can no longer tip toe around!

  10. Equitable division is the only way to go, as it is the only way that the argument ends. The sooner, the better – preserving the "institution" at all costs will only serve to destroy it in the long run.

  11. Regarding the Gallup survey… and why end discrimination against just a few? What a question!!!! Why is it a big deal to end discrimination against ANY group if they aren't the majority? If nothing else, you must recall that Jesus Christ himself was all about the 1 lost sheep and those on the outside of the self-righteous majority.

    The Gallup survey is flawed. Who, when called by a stranger on the phone, answers the question "Are you gay, lesbian, bi-sexual or transgender"? I wouldn't, and I am. LGBT is a significantly larger part of our society, higher than 10%.
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/allison-hope/gallup

  12. clark_2012@comcast.n says:

    Yes, it is time to stop the fighting. Attrition over the next few years of progressives, and a downturn of new members
    from the younger generations, that seem to prefer "Spirituality" to religion, should enable those left to pursue their
    traditional values. A division of assets is not realistic, creating another denomination would not be fruitful.
    There are a number of denomination that do have "open doors and open minds" that would accept former United Methodists with open arms.

  13. methodistpie says:

    The United Methodist Church is a lot more "inclusive" than is sometimes believed. There has always been a place for gay and lesbian persons, including gay and lesbian pastors, so long as they practiced what amounts to "don't ask, don't tell." It's been a church where discreet gay clergy can get pulpits and pensions. Sure, there are plenty of denominations that will welcome those of you who leave. But what about pulpits? What about jobs? What about benefits? Now, if you want to say gay and lesbian pastors shouldn't have to practice "don't ask, don't tell," that's another issue. But I see no evidence, from the experience of any other polity, that embracing the "progressive" theology of sexuality would result in anything but exponentially accelerated decline–whereupon none of us, traditionalist or progressive, would have jobs and pensions. If you are too righteous to be concerned about such things, bless you heart. You're a better person than I am.

    • Thomas Coates says:

      The UMC DADT was basically removed with some of the judicial action in 2013, where now, “self-avowed practicing” can be as simple as a third-party bio on a school website– it’s a hunt to expose LGBTQ clergy these days, where they live in fear.
      Accelerated decline? Maybe for the older generations, but the UMC stance on LGBTQ people is likely one reason why younger generations leave or stay away (and, over the past 40 years, could this be one of the primary reasons why the UMC has declined in more left-leaning areas?)

  14. strugglingtostayum says:

    Of course, keep the pews filled. Keep the membership up. Wow, you all have your priorities straight. What happened to Biblical teaching? Seems the Bible – the Word of God – has a lot to say about right and wrong. Think it even calls a few things sins. Has a "you aren't supposed to do this" list. It has words of wisdom in there about marriage, family. I know I am just a member of the church. Long time member. I do believe in "open door, open hearts" but that does not mean "ya all come in and we do not expect you to change." Thought accepting Jesus and the forgiveness of the cross, meant we confessed sin and, like the woman about to be stoned, try to "go and sin no more." Oh but we want the pews filled. We want the membership rolls to increase. The solution. Let's just dismiss God's Word. How is that working out for us?

    • Progressives are not keeping the pews filled friend.
      If membership up is the goal and keeping the pews filled the objective all statistics of every denomination that has changed to full inclusion are on the decline. Check the statistics.
      Most denominations post their progress or regress on their websites.
      There is a sharp decline in membership directly related to full inclusion.
      Worldwide the UMC is doing ok as far as membership goes.
      The UMC USA is in decline.

      • Filling pews is not our goal. The goal, the purpose, for being the church is to make disciples of ALL peoples for the transformation of the world. If the UMC, traditionalists and progressives alike, can be more effective in this effort as separate denominations, then I believe that division would be a more faithful option. It will require of us a humbleness of heart and a willingness to let go of what was, and walk with faith into what will be. Perhaps God will show us a new way to be connectional for the sake of the mission.

  15. theospilot says:

    Bill Hinson tried to lead the UMC in this direction 8 years ago at the 2004 General Conference. But we buried our heads in the sand and passed a ridiculous "we are unified" statement. The liberals beat Bill up pretty good over that courageous attempt.

    Lovett Weems said it very well in his, "The Coming Death Tsunami" video on the net. "Nothing is so limiting to an organization than the inability to speak the truth." We have avoided the very obvious truth for at least 25 years or longer. As the UMC moves into it's final phase it will start to pick up speed the closer it gets to the ground. I have started to believe the only thing that might save us is a split. Before I did not think anything could save us. The split is NOT just over the homosexual marriage issue but the complete divide between us. Let those who cannot live with The Articles of Religion and Confessions of Faith in their clear and honest understanding go and take their churches, pensions, etc. with them and our blessing as well. Let There Be Peace on Earth and let it begin with a caring division. It might just save the church. But time is running out.

  16. Although Rev. Jackson may be correct that it may be time for The United Methodist Church to split, it is a troubling thought for those of us who would identify as both liberal and orthodox.

    What I found most troubling about this article, is that Rev. Jackson – a seminary professor – kept refering to the "civil" disobedience being promoted by the Western Jurisdiction. There has been no "civil" disobedience. It is ecclesiastical disobedience. As such, the progressive promoters of disobedience to the doctrine and discipline of the church have already separated.

  17. melvinwoodworth says:

    I am saddenned that so many are ready to sever the ties that bind.
    We are declining as a denomination because we are failing to make the Gospel credible to younger generations. In the 19th century we learned that sexuality is much more complex than a male/female duality. In the 20th century we created, then discredited translations of scripture that condemned all same sex behavior. In the 21st century we act as if we have not done these things.
    People want to learn to perfect themselves in love. They do not want a church that preaches judgement (against Jesus' teaching), practices condemnation (against Jesus' teaching) and works harder to perfect prejudice than love. They hear words of division and hatred and want nothing to do with it.
    Dividing the property and going our seperate ways will not solve the institutional survival problem. It will prove that we are incapable of practicing what we preach and will drive people away even faster. We will have turned our back on God's will and God will simply let us go.

    • rebeccasickles says:

      Melvin, I’ve read the article and all the comments, and I find that I agree with yours the most. I think we all need to experience the uncomfortable ties that bind. I joined UMC when my PCUSA congregation voted to join an evangelical PC primarily because of gay ordination issues. I was devastated when these ties in my Presbyterian denomination were severed – an action that showed the world that Christians are divisive, judgmental and intolerant of those who have different interpretations of God’s message to His people. Good grief! We don’t have the answers. Let God be the judge and let’s be obedient to His command to love others – gays, lesbians, evangelicals, conservatives, and progressives. The issue in the UMC is certainly complex, but we need to be like Jesus – and love and respect our fellow man. Please stay together. Please stop the trials. Please have discussions among all members in a church. Please let gay ministers be ordained and preach where they are called to be. Please be tolerant of lifestyles we don’t understand. Please respect varying interpretation of the scriptures and know in your heart that God, not man, is our lawmaker and judge. Let our UMC church acknowledge the love and mystery and tolerance and unity of Christianity.

  18. deegentry121 says:

    Every single time I read an article like this, I stand amazed that homosexuality is THIS big an issue. WE HAVE FAILED as a church! FAILED FAILED FAILED!!!

    I read all these articles by highly educated men and women, so highly educated that they have lost their faith in God and the Bible! I don't need a theologian to try and twist God's Word into something perverse.

    Here, we can solve the whole issue right here simply by opening the Bible, something that obviously isn't being done by many United Methodist these days…

    1 Corinthians 6:9-10 says plainly, "9 Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. "

    I would take it, none of these should be ordained to preach God's Word if they can't control their own sinful nature! Reckon? Funny thing is, I don't see a lot of folks lobbying to allow Prostitutes or those in extra-marital affairs to be ordained. This whole debate is stupid. READ YOUR BIBLE PEOPLE. STOP ARGUING OVER THINGS THAT ARE OPENLY ANSWERED IN THE WORD OF GOD. PURE IGNORANCE.

    • What about John 3:16?

      I for one, if forced out of the Methodist Church, would leave all churches as many of my friends have. I stayed out of them for 20 years because I wasn’t welcomed. Some of my friends have left Christianity totally because they couldn’t understand how a God who created them could apparently hate them so much.

      I’m always on the verge of leaving and am especially wondering today if I should just give up and go if I am so hopelessly wicked just based on how God created me.

      I love my my church and I love God. The question is, does either truly love me?

  19. argentinafred says:

    As a UMC pastor (Elder since 1955), now retired and living in Nicaragua, I have long-since come to the conclusion that the UMC has condemned itself to irrelevancy, so though I deeply appreciate the article, I really don't think it makes much difference.

    I was pastor of Broadway UMC in Chicago before Greg Dell went there. During my four years there, Broadway became the fastest-growing church in the Northern Illinois Conference, largely because we ignored the gay/lesbian issue and treated people as people. The church is located in the so-called "gay ghetto" of Chicago, so when gays and lesbians found that they could join a church that treated them as people, not as a category, they came in droves. We did Holy Unions (I don't know how many because I didn't keep track). We had three ordained UMC pastors in the congregation who had been forced out of pastoral ministry when they "came out", and they were delighted to do the Holy Unions, which gave me "plausible deniability" in case anyone asked. (No one ever did).

    If you read Rev. Ermalou Roller's wonderful book On Thundering Wings, which deals with Greg Dell's trial at Broadway and her own pilgrimage in UMC ministry, you will see how irrelevant the UMC has become. Having spent more than 30 years in Latin American, as a UMC missionary and then on my own, I have no hope that the 3rd World UMC reps at General Conference will overcome their own patriarchalism in next 5-10 generations. The Brazilian Methodist Church has become a caricature of Wesleyan Methodism, being today a neo-Pentecostal church. (All 12 bishops are charismatic and spend more time excluding people who don't agree with them than in sharing the Good News of Jesus of Nazareth.) That is part of the current "discipleship" movement in the US, which is mainly trying to outdo the Southern Baptists in growth to be able to build more buildings and pay down more mortgages.

    Being part of the Liberation Theology movement in Latin America, I am more deeply disturbed by the fact that the UMC has abandoned the poor, except for charitable acts, than even the outrageous position it is clinging to about sexuality. When was the last time a poor person was elected to the Ad Council of a UMC? Or president of the UMW? Or even attended one of our services? Pope John XXIII started a revolution in the Roman Catholic Church with Vatican II, which returned to the biblical roots of our faith. Pope John Paul II and his successor, whom will not even dignify by naming, have successfully undone all that was done at Vatican II. Today, obedience to the Pope has become, once more the central fact of the RC Church. And obedience to the General Conference has become the central fact of the UMC. Both are fatal mistakes, which guarantee the total irrelevance of both churches.

    The Vatican II and Medillin affirmations that the Church is the People of God, who are the Poor, has been lost all around. So we continue fiddling, while Global Warming guarantees the end of the human race.

  20. anglocath says:

    Perhaps another option for progressives within the church could be an alignment with the Episcopal Church USA. Official dialogue between the two denominations has been ongoing for years. In Mississippi, the Episcopal diocese and the UMC conference have a program of worship and shared eucharist where members of each church are encouraged to seek commonality. This is occurring in other areas as well. While full communion between the two could be years away as there are some significant theological challenges, I could certainly envision a Wesleyan Rite service within the ECUSA. As a former Methodist and now Episcopalian, I for one would love to see a reunification……

  21. Don't be so quick to say young people will reject Orthodox Theology!!!!! While our Churches "Deep in the Heart" of Texas are struggling and announcing Doom and Gloom to Orthodox based Churches, a Church in existence 10 years called Austin Stone has grown to three Campuses in Austin and it started in the shadow of the University of Texas!!!! I have read that on any giv en weekend the avg attendance at Austin Stone is greater than over half the UM Churches in the Austin area, Something to wonder about!!!!

  22. aldee0527 says:

    Why are we so concerned about this issue and yet ignore the "huge" ( in more ways than one) obesity issues in our churches ? Let's get honest, we love talking about sex but are afraid of offending anyone guilty of the sin of gluttony. Let's get some perspective here friends, did not Jesus say something about planks and slivers? Plently of folks need to hear Christ message of healing, transformation and salvation and it is deserves our full attention, especially, our distinctive Arminian flavor in this "purpose driven world" .

  23. clark_2012@comcast.n says:

    I remember growing up in upstate New York in the 1950's, attending church each Sunday in our Methodist church.
    Every Sunday 100-120 of the faithful showed up wiith almost twice that during the Christmas and Easter season.
    A few years ago I returned for a visit to my hometown, and attended church there – with 20 other hardy souls,
    and at age 70 I fit right in. The church of my youth was on "Main Street," and was a beacon in the community. Today, it is a shadow of its former self, "with the last one out lock the door," and the local fundamentalist church is thriving. In so many ways the rural areas have gone backwards in time, very backwards. The Progressives that are left attend other churches, and the tradition bound continue their faithfulness to the Methodist church.

    Today I attend a UCC church. I am tired of the United Methodist Church's emotionally exhausing struggle to "find itself." The heady days of yesterday are gone – and the fragmented days of today will probably lead to an American church that is mostly memories and hope whistling in the wind.

  24. I think there is a 5th option: allow the US to become a Central Conference. And a 6th: realize that cultural differences are significant enough that the UMC truly is no longer an international church, and allow our structure to demonstrate that.

    • The cultural differences you mention are valid in my opinion, although I am sure lots of my progressive friends would be horrified at your suggested 5th option. However, I have thought the same thing you have.

      However, that said, just the fact that the US churches have been divided over the issue for so long makes me wonder if that would even be a viable solution. The creation of a separate US Conference might allow the discussion to continue and would allow for a sense of ‘community’ and family to help frame the discussion. Unfortunately, having heard the theological arguments coming from our African and Asian brothers and sisters, I don’t see any way we could have a fruitful discussion with them, as the difference in understandings are so divergent. That is a blunt statement, but it is what I believe.

      I am worship with a congregation that is inclusive and has a pulse, because they understand what it is to be in mission for the transformation of the world, or at best, the part where it happens to serve. The movements within our churches are occurring and are Biblical and sincere and reflect the love and teachings of Christ. We must not give up at all costs, because the church is wanting to change and become relevant again. We need to support change to stay relevant and vital and make those changes that we find will further the mission of the church to make disciples for Christ.

  25. With the global church relying so heavily on U.S. money, why does anyone think that the same majority that blocks full inclusion would vote to allow an “equitable division” and relinquish the property and other assets?

  26. Shelly Cichowlas says:

    17 years ago I was a candidate for diaconal ministry in the UMC and, despite being told to stay and work toward change, decided to leave the denomination in favor of joining a progressive UCC congregation. Ten years later my daughter came out to our family and close friends and last year she married the woman she loves in our church by our pastor. I will never regret my decision to leave the UMC for that reason. My children know that hate and prejudice and homophobia exist, but not in the place where we celebrate the God who made us whole and views sexuality as a gift G,L, B, T, or not.

  27. I couldn’t disagree more. I have to believe, along with things like virgin births and resurrections, that impossible things can happen. I will not believe that our political positions or biblical interpretations are stronger than the Spirit of God’s power to unite … to bring together. I am “progressive”, for sure, when it comes to the issue of full acceptance of the LGBTQ community into the life of the church. I have to believe that there is a way through the current divisions … we just haven’t found it yet.

  28. I am in mission as Jack Jackson, urges us to be when I ask each member to submit an answer to this quiestion: where and how do our diverse presentations come from in creation. In our understandings of our beginnings is our common ground. I hope members of United Methodist will submit answers here.

  29. Anglo Cath proposes an option that I think would be attractive to some Progressive Methodists and that would be to become a Wesleyan community within The Episcopal Church. A similar alternative could be managed with the UCC. The former would fulfill the Wesleys own view of the role of Methodism, not as a separate church but as a renewing fellowship within the Church of England. This should be a topic for discussion with those churches regardless of what happens in the UMC since many have already left for these two churches and that won’t stop.

    Secondly, I too doubt that an ‘equitable’ settlement could be arrived at. Explicitly Progressive parishes are not that numerous. I suspect that most UM congregations do not feel directly affected and so would not be inclined to leave even though they don’t share the rigorous traditionalism of the Conservatives. And while African Methodists are not likely to change any time soon, there are now 18 States in the US that permit same sex marriage. Demographically, the younger people are the more they favor equality for LGBT people. Conservative Methodists may have won the battle in the UMC but over time they are bound to lose the war. Besides, the bloom is off the Evangelical conservative rose. Younger Evangelicals do not share the obssessions about sexual ethics that their parents have worried about. So even the Traditionalists need to find a compromise. If Methodists continue to fight over this issue they will continue their sharp decline because people do not want to be part of a church fight. The compromise is not equitable schism, which would be a protracted battle in itself. The compromise is to admit the obvious. That significant sections of the UMC are not in agreement with the anti gay policies and these areas are not going to fully enforce those repressive measures. No amount of draconian legislation is going to compel compliance. It will only stiffen resistence. By General Conference remaining conflicted nothing is likely to happen on this issue, but on the ground change will continue to happen. Acceptance of LGBT people will continue in American society, and those sections of the church such as the Northeast and the West coast and Chicago will become havens for LGBT Methodists and their supportive clergy. The South and Southwest will continue to be bastions of Conservativism as they have been since the end of the Civil War. In time there will be a de facto recognition that while the official policy says one thing, the churches outside the South and Southwest do things differently. In fact, what will happen is the realization that it is not possible to compel compliance on controversial issues like homosexuality. Lyle Schaeller predicted that the UMC could not continue to hold a ‘one size fits all’ approach in our increasingly diverse society and needed to decentralize. It may not be adoped formally, but it will become the reality on the ground, and if Conservatives want to preserve what they have, without further damaging the national reputation of the church, they will acquiese to this informal settlement and not push their luck by attempting to fix what cannot be put back together.

  30. All the” schism is the way to go” articles ignore some real and basic difficulties. Within any conference there is a mix of Conservative and Progressive Congregations as relates to LGBTQ issues. Within each congregation there is a mix of Conservative and Progressive members as well. And for me, as half of a clergy couple, there is the reality that my husband and I are on opposite sides of this issue. God has not created LGBTQ individuals in neat little pockets so that we can readily divide into “two teams.” What we seek is relative simplicity and distinct identity. But we live in a world which is more diverse than many of us would like!

  31. I think us Methodist need to be about the business of love and stop worrying about sex. Here is why…..if we are to apply the full meaning of 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 “9 Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. “If we are to be honest, those who would inherit the kingdom would fit in a single church. We all practice some form of idolatry, and what is the modern standard for sexually immorality? And, who among us have not slandered Bush-Obama-Muslims-Jews-Conservatives-Liberals-Mexicans-Asians or all of the above. We have all moved so far from the mark that very few consider themselves swindlers…we call them job creators and the act a healthy profit margin. Being gay is no more a sin as being fat, sick, old, divorced, remarried, white, black, rich, or poor. I would much rather see this church perish from the face of the earth than to allow love between two people to be considered a sin. Why don’t we start kicking out the fornicators …our seminaries would close.

    • Wes Andrews says:

      Al, I will not call you “Rev. Al”. This is an atrocious perspective, and reveals the unjust agenda of the pro-gay marriage/ordination crowd. You obviously hate the UMC, and its identity as described in our Book of Discipline.

      Really, “you must repent of your abusive attitude toward those who refuse to reject the Biblical definition (and the stand of the BOD) of sexuality and marriage or LEAVE the UMC.”

      This should be a quote from your Bishop spoken face to face to you, but alas, our Bishops don’t know how to lead….

  32. Pastor/Professor Jackson has erected a credible bridge between the lose-lose status quo of the institution and the win-win aspirations of our Wesleyan theology. But that bridge seems to teeter as he points out at the intersection of faith and mission. For those who suggest that two millennia of derision, debasement and death of sexual minorities in the name of Christ Jesus is merely an uncomfortable diversion from our principle task at hand speaks to the utter failure of the Gospel imperatives we profess. Regional autonomy or cordial seperation from the evils of Christic exvlusion may be a balm for progressive pensioners who have found their peace in the glass-doored clergy closets of the UMC, but with the connectional funding of the new anti-gay Central Conference plurality, even a “win-win” resolution – whatever that may look like – leaves progressives as un shifting accomplices in the continued oppression of LGBT folks the world over. At some point progress must take a convicted stand (other than more resolutions and polite dialogue) and demonstrate the will and sacrifice necessary to live what they preach. The moral and physical costs of the UMC’s bipolar core values can’ be counted in attendance and donations, but rather in lives lost and faiths abandoned from “jail the Gays” legislation in Uganda the hall closets and took sheds all across America as LGBT teenagers take their final hopeless stands against a loveless God in a cruel and uncafing world.

  33. Smkyqtzxtl says:

    During diaconal candidacy I left the Methodist denomination when a family member had a panic attack before a service due to PTSD and was subsequently barred from reattending until they were “all better”. The UMC, at least locally in my area, could not deal with a members mental illness. We found another church in another denom more welcoming to the mentally ill. Another topic, another issue, another discussion, but there is a common thread, Compassion.

  34. @mattlipan says:

    I wrote a similar thought in May of 2013. http://neighborhoodofholy.com/a-house-divided/

  35. Jack, many progressives advocate a 5th option. They want to regionalize the UMC so that the Central Conferences do not influence the internal mechanism of the American connection. Hence, without the Central Conferences, they will have the ability to turn American United Methodism in their direction. In fact, via the influence of UMC seminaries, they have already made deep inroads into the clergy on this issue, especially the younger clergy of every region. The laity will follow suit as the nation itself changes course on this topic. As such, if the progressive wing can push its goal of a regional American connection that turns UM globalism into a shell of what it is, they will win.

  36. So, for the sake of unity we should break up?
    Sounds legit.

  37. David Kueker says:

    Actually, there’s a fifth alternative that needs some research.

    Someone familiar with General Conference practices has shared that the Central Conferences (i.e. all the conferences outside the USA) have the privilege to add to or ignore sections of the Book of Discipline that conflict with local cultural norms. And they make use of this privilege. (My friend gave an example which I won’t share because it is not verified, but it’s almost as objectionable to some folks in the USA as homosexual behavior.)

    If this is accurate, the playing field for the USA isn’t level. If each jurisdiction becomes a Central Conference, then the problem is largely solved – present natural cultural differences will become official.

    I would very much appreciate it if someone could research this. Is it true that Central Conferences can selectively implement and obey the Book of Discipline based on local culture?

    • Hey Dave,
      Isn’t that what the PCUSA denomination actually did? Let each Presbytery decide? And the traditionalists still left… And then the wars would continue to rage within each Jurisdiction…

  38. Thomas Coates says:

    No split– there would still be LGBTQ children and youth growing up in extremely homophobic and hostile Methodist churches, it would solve nothing.

    Again, perhaps why the UMC is declining in more left-leaning areas of the country is BECAUSE of the UMC’s policy against LGBTQ people– it’s not a symptom, but possibly THE reason. How many thousands of progressives have left the UMC over the past 40 years? Incalculable. It seems all many care about is the right wing leaving…

Trackbacks

  1. […] an interesting article that pertains to this topic and how the liberal/progressives saw the outcome of the 2012 GC. […]

  2. […] Does the issue of Homosexuality present us with an impossible situation?  UM Reporter Article. […]

  3. […] schism is all the rage now in the United Methodist Church.  Jack Johnson of Claremont argued breaking up was “hard, but the right thing” for the denomination […]

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