Commentary: No choice but to talk about breaking up

The Rev. Pamela Lightsey (center) leads advocates from the Black Lives Matter movement as they disrupt the proceedings of the 2016 United Methodist General Conference in Portland, Ore. The demonstrators marched into the plenary session chanting slogans and gathered around the central communion table.Photo by Maile Bradfield, UMNS.

The Rev. Pamela Lightsey (center) leads advocates from the Black Lives Matter movement as they disrupt the proceedings of the 2016 United Methodist General Conference in Portland, Ore. The demonstrators marched into the plenary session chanting slogans and gathered around the central communion table.

by Jack Jackson*

After a week together, and with only a few days remaining at the United Methodist Church’s General Conference, one thing is certain. Despite pleading from the Council of Bishops and the constant refrain from the platform for unity, the United Methodist Church is anything but unified on the primary issue that divides us — human sexuality.

A significant minority of the denomination clearly believes that human sexuality expressed in LGBTQ relationships is integral to a person’s being and an expression of God’s creation, which are neither sinful nor in need of transformation. Another significant minority believes that God blesses only heterosexual and monogamous expressions of sexuality within the covenant of marriage and sees anything outside these expressions as a sin. A final group and probably a minority at this point believes there is a middle way that can live between the two extremes. The middle has held us together the past few decades, but increasingly people are concerned that calls to unity no longer actually keep us unified. We need a plan that somehow either gives those who have disparate visions of human sexuality a way to live together, or which frees the church to divide. We cannot continue with the current structure.

Now bishops have been asked to lead. Will they? Bishop Ough called us to unity this morning, but we need their leadership, not their acknowledgment of divisions within their own ranks, something the rest of the church has known for years. We need them to help us come up with a plan that acknowledges that the church faces fundamental divisions for which unity, as we currently understand it, is no longer possible. If the bishops do not bring a recommendation in the morning which the conference can use to start a discussion then the conference will be left wondering what the future holds.

What the future holds is clear. Without a new structure that either gives freedom to both progressives and traditionalists to determine their own path on this issue or that facilitates an organized split of the church, the current divide will grow. Progressives will continue to abandon any pretense of obeying a church law they deem oppressive and unjust. The Western Jurisdiction codified this view a few years ago when they voted not to abide by any legislation that discriminates against LGBTQ persons, arguing for “Biblical disobedience” to any General Conference legislation they disapprove of. Some bishops endorsed this. Other annual conferences and jurisdictions have and will continue to make similar moves in the coming months if prohibitions of LGBTQ inclusion are retained.

Furthermore, traditionalists who seek to retain current prohibitions of LGBTQ inclusion will continue to solidify their support. Early signs from the committees indicate the UMC will retain these prohibitions. By the next General Conference, since the UMC is growing only in areas with a more traditionalist viewpoint on LGBTQ inclusion, the church’s position as a whole is almost guaranteed to become more conservative, not less in the coming years. Some progressives I talk to acknowledge that bringing about a change in the current rules will now take at least 16 years, with some predicting a 30-year struggle. Are we willing to live with our current divide for another generation? In light of our denominations plunging membership, does the church even have time to wait sixteen years, much less thirty or more?

General Conference delegates would be wise, after hearing from the bishops tomorrow, to develop a framework through which we can have a true conversation about restructuring or splitting. A called General Conference, or some other mechanism, is necessary at this point in order to formally engage in talks that after seven days of conferencing we’ve yet to fully engage upon.

In some ways, a special called General Conference or some other mechanism will open the door for schism. But the reality is we’re already experiencing a schism, with thousands of people on all sides of the human sexuality debate, abandoning the church in the United States each week.

But perhaps viewing this as a potential schism is not the best way to look at it. If there is no solution to our divide then we would be better off blessing each other, despite our difference, and releasing each other to be in ministry to a broken world, even as we are a broken church. For if we cannot find a way to live together then we need, to be honest, and acknowledge, as painful as it would be to do so, that despite our past together we have no future together.

The best thing we can do, in light of our divide, is start a real conversation that seeks to discern if we can actually live together any longer as the denomination we’ve come to love, for our church is no longer united. Pleas for unity from bishops and others only encourage us to sidestep the conversations we must have. Much of the legislation we’ve already dealt with and will continue do deal with will prove meaningless if we don’t deal with chasm before us. Continuing to ignore our essential disunity is destroying the very movement we hope to save. For after seven days one thing remains evident to all: we are anything but united.

*Dr. Jack Jackson is the E. Stanley Jones Associate Professor of Mission, Evangelism, and Global Methodism at the Claremont School of Theology in Claremont, California

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26 Comments on "Commentary: No choice but to talk about breaking up"

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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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Maryanne
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I have been reading so many articles concerning this matter. I am struck with all the language about what the conference, clergy and delegates should do, what the Book of Discipline says, but how little discussion there is about what scripture says. What God himself says about this issue. Who cares what we humans think, what has God declared?

Jim
Guest

Someone voted you down. Wow! I voted you up, as I agree strongly.

FAsburyreader
Guest

Agree. Moses wrote what God told him to write; Jesus modified a few of the laws while validating Moses and what Moses wrote. The validation is found in the NT.

Zane
Guest

On that note, there is also a scriptural way of dealing with the disunity facing the UMC, but it’s not going to be popular: Church discipline for all teachers currently advocating for the acceptance of sin. Is it likely to unite the UMC? No, but what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? The unity will be with the universal Church.

Kelli
Guest
“A final group and probably a minority at this point believes there is a middle way that can live between the two extremes.” For me, it is not so much about the petitions of the LGBTQ, but the means by which we accept the petitions. A previous post, defending the LGBTQ position, argued the Bible never condemns or speaks against homosexuality; but instead, he contends this is a misinterpretation of ancient text. Other than for the politician’s art of “saying something repetitively over time makes it less false”, this argument has been defeated. The only way to affirm LGBTQ and… Read more »
John
Guest

“But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth!”
‭‭Revelation‬ ‭3:16‬ ‭NLT‬‬
http://bible.com/116/rev.3.16.nlt

Kelly McClendon
Guest

excellent post Kelli – thank you.

Paul Blanchard
Guest

“… Another significant minority believes that God blesses only heterosexual and monogamous expressions of sexuality within the covenant of marriage and sees anything outside these expressions as a sin.” Seriously? Perhaps if one measures USA churches only, but they might not be a minority here. Add in the global UMs and this becomes a poor attempt to marginalize the majority.

Lane West
Guest

God’s Word is not open to compromise. If you cannot take it as authority, you are not His Church. God is not a salad bar from which you pick and choose what you want to believe and follow.

gwaltluv
Guest

Then you need to find a more humane source of morality. Why struggle to make reality fit with your beliefs. Your beliefs should change to accomodate reality. People should come before religious dogma.

mamaditto
Guest
The ex-gay Christians whom I am acquainted with serve as living testimonies that no one is born with a “sexual orientation.” Such a term, along with jargon such as “gay”, “LGBTQIA”, “gender identity”, “gender expression” are 20th cent political soundbites concocted by activists of identity politics. They would be foreign to the Biblical writers. If Peter & Paul entered a church to find rainbow flags on the premises, they would be astonished, since it was ex-gays who were members of the 1st cent church (1 Cor 9:11) To truly transform the world as disciples of Jesus Christ, the UMC needs… Read more »
gwaltluv
Guest

If you weren’t born with a predisposed sexual orientataion, then at what age did you decide to be attracted to the opposite sex? That is if it’s a choice as you say…And if sexual orientation is a choice, could you choose to be sexually attracted to the same sex at will? I know I couldn’t.

Jim
Guest

“By the next General Conference, since the UMC is growing only in areas with a more traditionalist viewpoint on LGBTQ inclusion, the church’s position as a whole is almost guaranteed to become more conservative, not less in the coming years.”

In my readings on church growth around the world, I have found that the vast majority of growing churches seem to be more conservitive in their view on human sexuality while at the same time loving and embracing all people into their congregations.

Jonathon Hunt
Guest
Yes, that is true. But those in the LGBTQ camp continue to say that those on the orthodox side are “homophobic”, “evil”, “hateful”, etc. Nothing could be further from the truth. But as long as they are not allowed to do whatever they feel like doing, despite what the Bible says, they will continue to use those words. I have not been in many different UMCs but the few I have been in have all accepted the person. Of course I am no longer going to UMCs because I am tired of seeing the denomination not do anything about it.… Read more »
Don Wilson
Guest

Waive the trust clause for 1 year

Protect the pastorsame

It will sort its self out quickly

Don Wilson Lillington NC

Don Wilson
Guest

Protect the pastor means:

If a church leaves and the pastor chooses to stay with the succeeding church, as long as both portions of any benefits plan are kept current they remain in effect. This only applies to what will be known as original legacy pastors in original legacy churches.

marber
Guest

They’ve had their 15 minutes of fame. Now it is time to shut them down.

Jim
Guest

When some split from the Episcopal church, they thought they could just take over an Episcopal church building and make it theirs However, a judge ruled that the church property was inherently the property of the whole body of that denomination, and not that of a splinter group.
So even if there is a split, the minority LGBT group will have to find their own place to meet.

Scott
Guest

Let the progressives go. There’s no use in rying to retain them; they will simply be more bold in defying the Discpline and scripture. That will only bring more embarrassment to the church. There is no compromise on the issue dividing us. I wish the orthodox Methodists and the orthodox Anglicans could somehow unite into an Anglican/Methodist Church that John Wesley, who never ceased being an Anglican, would have found true to the Word of God.

Michael Eric Payton
Guest

The report here is trying to suggest that these beliefs are some fringe minority. It is in fact the belief presented in the Old and New Testaments. Kudos for the UMC for standing up for Biblical doctrine.

Kelly McClendon
Guest

Look where the person who wrote this article teaches. That explains your post.

Connie
Guest

This is a great idea that I had not heard before about unifying the two churches. And I agree with the idea about just letting the pro LGBTs go. Unity with those who are against Bible teaching is itself a sin.

gwaltluv
Guest

Religion either changes with the times or it dies. It’s really simple. Everybody knows or has a family member who is LGBT. People should come before dogma.

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