Will it be revolution or strangulation for UMC?

By Christy Thomas, Special Contributor…

The United Methodist Church cannot be re-formed. It’s over for us with our current structure.

The Judicial Council’s decision to revoke the involuntary retirement of Bishop Earl Bledsoe over issues of violation of procedural minutia found in the Book of Discipline (not over the question of his effectiveness, which was not being ruled upon) has forever made this clear. It is over.

It’s easy to get frustrated with the Judicial Council for the rulings of the last few months. Their work has thoroughly reversed decisions made by General and Jurisdictional Conferences.

Christy Thomas

However, I think that would be a mistake. They’ve done the United Methodist Church a huge favor. Because the members of the Council were faithful to the letter of the law, which is exactly what they are supposed to do, we now know for sure that this emperor has no clothes.

They have revealed an important truth and truth does very much set us free.

Many gifted, intelligent, godly people slogged through interminable meetings seeking to follow the rules and still lead us into substantive and necessary change. We easily see those as wasted hours in light of the aftermath of the Judicial Council decisions.

Again, I say, let us receive the favor here. There is simply no sense in trying to do that kind of thing anymore. It can’t work. Period.

We are going to have to engender our own revolution/reformation or die slowly of strangulation by methods that no longer support the heart of Methodism. No one in their right mind wants to die this way. But we are now at the crossroads and must choose: strangulation or revolution?

I wish we didn’t have to do this. Revolutions hurt, and leave scarred landscapes and burnt-out buildings. People die. Pain becomes our middle name. Sad tears accompany nearly every decision. Passionate arguments punctuate every discussion.

But the structure has cracked and the un-repairable foundation now sits exposed. John Wesley was an autocratic organizational genius who could do to the clergy under his command and the churches of his movement things that are now not just unworkable, but also unthinkable.

And our own efforts at tinkering with the denomination we inherited? Well, we’ve danced around it, modified it, adapted it and culturally-contexted it. Time to stop. It’s over.

What do we have left? We have the most powerful theology of grace that has ever infused the human race. We have words about God that tell us that God is ever before us, wooing the world into repentance, relationship and wholeness. We have an understanding about our redemption and forgiveness that forever sets us free. And we actually do believe that we can, in cooperation with the Spirit of God, be perfected in love.

That’s what we have.

All the rest of it, our pensions and health insurance concerns, our episcopacy and our itinerancy, our megachurches and our itsy-bitsy rural congregations, our connection, our conferences, our metrics and our vestments, are just window dressing.

We have grace.

The question we now ask: Can grace-infused theology hold us together in the revolution that is now necessary? Can we plant ourselves firmly on opposite sides of huge issues, pray, argue and fight our way through this, and see a healthy and actually united Methodist church born yet once more? Can we free ourselves from the death strangle of our current methods and still be Methodists?

If we can’t, or we won’t, then we need to die anyway. We deserve no better than to slowly lose oxygen as we wander forever lost through the dead-end maze known as the Book of Discipline. If we can and if we will, then we will unleash the Spirit of God yet once more.

It’s time.

The Rev. Thomas is pastor of Krum First UMC, in Krum, Texas. She blogs at http://christythomas.com.

Special Contributor

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

  1. rebekah simon-peter says:

    You have given us a lot to think about! Thanks for your courage in calling it like you see it Christy!

  2. clark_2012@comcast.n says:

    Amen…. Amen… and amen.

  3. The UMC needs to change, got it, almost everyone agrees, the question is change how? Proposals to change fail not because change isn't desired but rather the proposed change is not the change wanted. What is proposed here? Disbanding, unaffiliating, slogging on, dumping the GC, returning to John Wesley? What does "our own revolution" entail or even mean?

  4. methodistpie says:

    Thank you.

  5. garryruff says:

    It is clear that our polity prevents major change – right or wrong, that was its intent. However, I don't believe that the polity would be a problem if the denomination were more closely aligned on the "huge issues" mentioned. The political maneuvering/obfuscating is largely the result of folks attempting to further or derail specific agendas. If the mistrust and polarization were not a factor, the polity would not be the problem that is presented. If Methodism is to survive in any meaningful way, it must do so through multiple expressions that are internally aligned rather than in its not-so-United current form.

  6. rjdex@aol.com says:

    I'm sorry that so many people don't see that the"procedural minutia found in the Book of Discipline" is what protects all of us from random preferential impulses. I'm also tired of people saying we need to change as an excuse. What we really need is to clean up our act and get it right according to the way we've agreed on doing something. Don't blame the process for for our human incompetence.

  7. I heard another person call for "revolution" and that was Donald Trump when the presidential elections did not bring the results he desired. I pray this call for revolution is not due to undesired results but for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Enough of whinning, blaming, and complaining. We have a world to reach that calls for all United Methodists to work together in bringing about change. We can clean up our act if we set aside our personal agendas and biases. How about doing the work of making hard/risk-taking decisions. We've wasted time, money, and integrity at GC. Let's not do that again.

  8. One question, what did John Wesley do to the clergy and churches that were unthinkable and unworkable? I was just wondering because I tend to think we may to get into the "wayback" machine and re-animate some of those practices.

Your thoughts?

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The United Methodist Reporter wants to encourage lively conversation about The United Methodist Church and our articles in the belief that Christian conversation (what Wesley would call conferencing) is a means of grace. While we support passionate debate, we cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others, and we reserve the right to delete any comment we believe to be harmful or inappropriate. We encourage all to remember that we are all broken and in need of Christ's grace, and that we all see through the glass darkly until that time we when reach full perfection in love. May your speech here be tempered with love, and reflection of the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. After all, "There is no law against things like this." (Galatians 5:22-23)
 

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