How Did We Get Here, Where Do We Go From Here

The words What Now asking the question for help or directions by a person lost in a mze and needingOn May 22, before the season of annual conferences began, a time when United Methodists gather to conduct business — and this year, a time when delegates to the 2016 General Conference will either be nominated or elected — a group of 80 “theologians and pastors” released a statement.

While there may be some nuance in allowing for other options, the thrust of the statement is a proposal for “amicable separation,” or rather, schism.

Immediately, the statement was panned by those on the right and left, or as we say, the middle. Not only were most of the 80 signatories kept secret, but also the language used to describe the view of Scripture was immediately shown to be unWesleyan. As I have pointed out elsewhere, the fact that 80 members of the UMC called for separation is statistically immeasurable. Simply, these unelected pastors and theologians were generally seen as having had no right to issue such a call.

There is some question as to whether or not such a call was issued and if it was, was it as unanimous as the statement and press release would like us to believe?

The Rev. State Wood, pastor of Mount Pisgah UMC in Johns Creek, Ga., told UMNS he didn’t sign “the call for separation”, although he was part of the 80 who had discussed it. He stated that amicable separation is possible, but only as a last resort.

Even if an official statement signed by 79 does not (yet) exist, the mere promise of it has generated significant pushback in the Church by many arguing against separation. Pastors and laity in the North Georgia Annual Conference have signed a unity covenant. The United Methodists of Mississippi are passing one around with more to follow. The North Texas Annual Conference rebelled against the IRD. Finally, the reverends Adam Hamilton and Mike Slaughter have issued their own proposal. There are some issues with it, but people can discuss it — and even discuss the discussion — and know that many are working with a spiritual eye to John 17 for the unity of the Church. This is not the only statement out, with more sure to follow.

The middle of the UMC  — the great majority are those who believe the unity of the Body of Christ as represented in the UMC should not be destroyed — are starting to speak out against separation. They are pastors and laity, taking to various social media platforms, who seek to honor all that we are as United Methodist Christians while making disciples for the transformation of the world.

One such team of bloggers can be found at Via Media Methodists. Their goal is one Wesley would have favored: “Our vision is thus to represent, resource, and give voice to a Middle Way at a crucial time in the North American church.”

Some have suggested the middle are overreacting, that the group was not calling for separation, only raising the question.

In the press release accompanying the statement, however, it would seem that separation was the only option the group sought. “The idea of separation was not an issue that the pastors and theologians wrestled with casually.” Rev. Dunnam said, “There is no viable ‘third way,’ or ‘compromise,’ so why not be Christian and civil, valuing each other, and work out a separation that will allow both groups to serve the Kingdom with the kind of commitment and passion essential for any powerful witness we wish to make.”

Perhaps it is the loud voice of the middle that has caused Dunnam to issue almost a retraction of sorts, or at least step back from the precipice. In a 4 June Facebook post, Rev. Dunnam wrote, “While some of us may agree that a peaceful parting could be in the best interest of United Methodists, we are not calling for separation as the only possible answer” after reminding his readers that “the possibility of separation was raised.” He goes on, “Too many are responding as though separation is the only issue on the table.” He chides us not to lose perspective but to focus on the subject and to focus on our mission.

Indeed, the middle desires nothing more than to do what Rev. Dunnam, at least on his Facebook post suggested, “and explore every possible option to find our Wesleyan missional nerve again, and be the church God is calling us to be.”

While we gather in person at our annual conferences or via social media, such as the numerous forums devoted to this topic, the middle’s voice, something that many wish to dismiss or hope goes away, is searching for a viable third option, that option that allows us to leave the United Methodist Church to our children more united than when we found it.

 

Joel L. Watts holds a Masters of Arts from United Theological Seminary with a focus in literary and rhetorical criticism of the New Testament. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul¹s model of atonement in Galatians. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls(Energion, 2013), Praying in God\\\’s Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014), and blogs daily at UnsettledChristianity.com.


Special Contributor to UMR

Special Contributor

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

  1. Lisa Keenan says:

    I would like to hear from Martin Luther on his views of separation.

  2. Sadly, this “opinion piece” can’t even be bothered to address the first part of the title, i.e., “How Did We Get Here?”.

    What was even the point in publishing this “hatchet” piece against traditionalists? Couldn’t the author have at least been honest enough to even mention the role of progressives who have forced this issue by flagrant and continued violations of our covenant?

    This author sounds a lot like the schoolyard bully who thinks it’s great fun while little Billy is getting picked on, but immediately runs bawling to his Mommy, “Billy hit me! Billy hit me!”, once little Billy has had enough and finally summons the courage to fight back.

  3. Heavenly father, we bow down before you. In our selfishness we did not respect your authority; we relied on our own thoughts, and we bear the scar of our fights with our brothers.

    Humble us; let us see our own faults. Teach us to say our brothers’ prayers, and carry their burdens as well. What we cannot do, but in you we can do.

    Lord, stay your winnowing fire. We will lay down our hate and repent. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

  4. MethodistPie says:

    The author seems to suggest that the idea of “schism” was the brainchild of these 80 evangelical pastors. Which is, of course. complete nonsense. While they are the target of backlash for talking about schism, Annual Conferences such as Minnesota are voting for schism–albeit by another name. At least the 80 pastors are being honest in their description of the state of things in this pitiable passage.

  5. Wes Andrews says:

    And so……, the Ph.D. candidate says absolutely nothing. Mr. Watts is falling shoulder to shoulder into the ranks of the progressives. He doesn’t even mention the issues at hand. A tornado is raging down on the UMC and he’s pointing at those who are warning people of the danger that is coming.

  6. Rev. David Goudie says:

    I ask again: If progressives choose to disregard the discipline and make legislation that urges us to do the same… what good is it to have a discipline? It breaks the covenant, and trust. I don’t want Schism. But who is it that is breaking the covenant and creating the schism? Where is the answer to ‘How did we get here?’ in this article? Is it not those who say we cannot abide by the discipline any longer, and forgoing the General Conference process who are pressing the issue and have thus ‘gotten us to this place and predicament?”

  7. This article makes little pretense of fairness or objectivity, further reveals the bias of the UMR, and is emblematic of the problem in this denomination.

    Mr. Watts is very unfair to traditional believers in this rambling, tremendously unbalanced piece. Avoiding the actual issues that brought this about, he focuses on the messengers and not the message. He rails against the qualifications of the 80 pastors, but what are his qualifications? What qualifies him to speak for the “middle?” Has he conducted a poll or done a survey?

    The so-called “middle” are probably surprised at all this because they have not been informed about the often covert activism and covenant-breaking of certain well-placed leaders. When the truth comes out the “middle” may be smaller than people like Mr. Watts think.

  8. Gary Bebop says:

    Earlier posters are right, this article “baits” rather than bothers with argument. This is obviously low-watt rather than high-watt op-ed.

  9. William says:

    Not worthy of publication. Even as attempted propaganda, a grade of F, or as a perceived contribution to UMR’s left leaning agenda, you’ve been had.

  10. Thank you, Mr. Watts for your thoughtful comments about the importance of working together. For a number of years, I’ve been able to work on numerous projects through Volunteers in Mission (VIM) and the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR). Any schism would result in a tremendous loss of connectionalism and effectiveness in serving God’s people.

  11. A more illuminating, “higher-wattage” take on the central issue: http://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2014/06/n-t-wrights-argument-against-same-sex-marriage

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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