Recently Read: Four Compelling Reasons Conservative and Progressive United Methodists Have to Stay Together

GruCrucby Rev. Dr. James C. Howell

Voices are clamoring for a split in the United Methodist Church, with an increasing urgency given many recent events, most notably an episcopal election in the West. I was myself a candidate for bishop and was not elected – and I am writing this blog to expand upon something I dreamed of working on if elected, and hopefully to persuade some folks to join me in a crusade to stay together, and not split. I can think of four compelling reasons why we cannot split, and I have just enough naivete left in me to believe conservatives and progressives might agree on all four. We can agree, I believe, and move forward on the basis of the great commission, the importance of holiness in sexual relationships, the centrality of Jesus, and the inspiration of Scripture. I suspect #2 is hardest for progressives, given practice and a host of other reasons, and #4 is hardest for conservatives, given the way debates have unfolded for many years. But I’m betting we can get there on all 4.

(1) At my jurisdictional conference, in my brief speech explaining to delegates my sense of call to the episcopacy, I suggested that “we can’t split now.” My reason? Our country is dividing and splitting all over the place. Black are divided against whites. Police are divided against some of our citizens. Republicans are divided against Democrats. Republicans are divided against themselves. If the Church splits now, we are saying to an already cynical world, We are just like you. We have no alternative to offer you. There are other Great Commission questions. Where I live, it is extremely difficult to get any unchurched people to try out a church that isn’t welcoming to LGBTQ people, or at least having a robust conversation about the issue. I’ve heard some say that where they live the Church won’t grow if the church welcomes LGBTQ people. But I am absolutely sure that a church that can’t stay together will not be able to make disciples in either kind of community. Our most crucial witness in a divided world is quite simply not to divide, to show the world (as Paul introduced 1 Corinthians 13) “a better way.”

(2) Somehow lost in all our debates within the church is any serious talk about holiness in sexuality. But in the Bible, there is such a thing as holiness; your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit. It is not the case that as long as it’s male and female having sex, it’s great. And it is not the case that if it’s male and male, or female and female, it’s great. It is not the case that as long as male and female are married, sex is just great, or if male and male could marry, all would be well. Sexual relations in marriage and in any straight or gay relationship can be abusive, manipulative, and self-absorbed; such relations can idolize pleasure and have no hint of consecration to God. Once upon a time, people came to the church, in effect asking for permission to live together and have intimate relations that might even be for God and pleasing to God. Holy marriage is a sacred mystery, mirroring the wonder of Christ’s church to the world. God clearly seeks a profound commitment, not just to your partner but to God and the church. Until we can recover robust ways to talk about and engage in a holy sexuality, which is more than and different from which gender gets to have sex with which gender, we should perhaps be quiet, and relearn how to be Christian on matters of sex.

Read the rest on Dr. Howell’s blog here.




Rev. Dr. James C. Howell is the senior pastor of Myers Park United Methodist Church in Charlotte, North Carolina.

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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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While I do hope in some ways that you are correct. Sadly, I have read and seen a number of places where even on these four we do not agree. 1) Great Commission, while I was unable to find the link again, the UM insight posted an article from a previous UM pastor who bemoaned the fact that we even developed a mission statement around the great commission. Stating that the great command of love is what is really what we should be about. And we should not even evangelize (share the good news of Jesus). 2) Holiness in Sexuality.… Read more »


The actions of the WJ make this article out of date. The church will split not because of progressives, but because of inaction of the leadership. Accountability has been replaced by independence which leaves the local pastor scrambling to maintain not only congregations intact, but also budgets. Our connection is weaker and there is much distrust which puts unnecessary strain on these individual churches as our collective responsibilities to each other have been disregarded. The UM leadership will now reap what it has sowed. The conservatives will split and form their own church. The remaining will try to get the… Read more »

Sandy Wylie
Sandy Wylie

This train left the station quite some time ago. We’ve been split for years into worlds that are far, far apart. Just trying to discuss scripture with each other is all but impossible. We read the Bible differently and have different world views. This church has changed dramatically from the church into which I was first ordained in 1967–and much of it not for the better. I don’t want to bear any ill will toward anyone else, and I hope others can respect me. It’s time to call it a day. Many of us do not want to be part… Read more »

Richard F Hicks
Richard F Hicks

The accompanying pix of a dead man on a cross may be the clue to the outcome of this tempest in the UMC teapot. Dead, left out to rot is not a vision of the future anyone wants. What about a vision of resurrection?! Merely fighting over the corpse isn’t appealing for profitable. Thank you, Richard F Hicks, OKC

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