Running Out of Options

What is the greatest threat to our United Methodist Church?  Is it decline?  Is it tolerance of sin?  Is it judgmentalism?  Is it hypocrisy?  How about controversy and conflict?  Nope.  There is one, simple threat to our continued existence and that is US.  Our church has been subverted by a self-centered, selfish, consumeristic, privileged entitlement mentality that puts the comfort of the individual ahead of the integrity of the community of faith and the will and vision of God.  My-way-or-the-highway, take-my-ball-and-go-home immature coercion is becoming the norm rather than the exception.  This, and this alone, has the power to kill us.

See, if we set aside our own selfish agendas and make a commitment to work together in the name of Jesus Christ, none of the other threats has any teeth.  Together, we can work through anything.  Conflict doesn’t have to be destructive.  Sin is a condition to address, not a test to determine who we will love and who we will not.  Hypocrisy is something we strive to eliminate rather than a guilty secret we attempt unsuccessfully to hide.  Unity in Christ — even across our differences — is the key to our future and to turning around our decline.

What is the evidence of our brokenness?  Look at the following dozen quotes and see if you can pick up the thread:

My wife and I have decided to leave the Methodist Church because of its hateful stance on gay and lesbian people.

I will not stay in a church that allows homosexuals.  Unless the church teaches that homosexuality is an abomination it is not a church.

If the church has the power to tell me I cannot bring my gun with me, then I will find a church that will obey the law.

When I found out that the Methodist church supported collective bargaining, I knew I had to leave.  Let those people work for a living like the rest of us.  The church has no right to tell me my politics.

I cannot stay in a church that tolerates abortion as a form of birth control.  [We don’t, by the way — read our Social Principles…].  The church should not condone murder.

We are leaving the church.  Protesting the death penalty is wrong.  We are Christians and we believe in an eye for an eye.

The United Methodist Church has no backbone.  The fact that it will not take a stand in support of GLTB (gay, lesbian, trans-gender, bi-sexual) children of God is ludicrous.  I want to go to a church that has a clue what LOVE means.

I will not attend a church that gives aid to illegals (immigrants).  Those people are criminals and the church is criminal for supporting them.  I will only contribute money to a church committed to sending them back where they belong.

My husband and I are leaving the church.  We were devastated that the church did not take a stand in support of immigration reform [we did…] and we cannot abide a church that doesn’t live their principles.

Church and politics should be kept separate.  We are going to the Assemblies (of God) church now where church and state are kept separate.  What we believe and how we vote are unrelated.

I have been a lifelong member of the Methodist church, but I feel I have to leave because the church has not supported the most vulnerable in (Governor Scott) Walker’s hostile attack on worker’s rights.  If you won’t support us, why should we support you?

We don’t like the pastor you sent us.  We (have) written letters, we withheld our giving, now you leave us no choice but to leave the church.

See any patterns?  Doesn’t matter which side a person is on — if they don’t get their way, they leave.  Developmental theorists identify this as a clear sign of emotional immaturity, but it is a sign of spiritual immaturity as well.  If reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of what the church is and what the church is for.  We have taken the body of Christ and turned it into a shopping center for narcissists.  It is all about ME.  If I get things my way, I stay.  If the church won’t revolve around ME, I am out of here.  The above examples are a small sample of a regular and growing trend.  At a recent meeting of clergy, I asked each participant to share one story or example of a similar situation they encounter.  The response was overwhelming.  Most clergy report that they deal with a “threat to leave” on the average of one per week; all around a single issue or incident.

Political strategists in the 1980s identified a niche in the American voting public — single-issue voters.  They found that for a large demographic of Americans — generally high school graduates, lower-middle class, rural-Mid-western and blue-collar — who could agree with ninety things but would ignore them all over just one thing they didn’t like.  The key single-issue issues that were most exploited were abortion and homosexuality.  The phenomenon has been explored in numerous books and articles, but the evidence is clear: millions of voters will vote for a party that actually hurts them personally as long as it panders to their single-issue.  We now see the same thing in our church — though the demographics have expanded to include just about everyone.

I had a conversation with a woman a few weeks ago who tearfully told me that she was leaving the church over our position on immigration.  She told me that Church and Society was ruining the church with its liberal agenda.  I asked her if she liked what Church and Society has done with gambling, tobacco, domestic abuse, women’s issues, and global health and wellness.  Oh, yes, she enthused, all of those things are wonderful, but supporting foreigners who were taking our jobs was intolerable.  Evidently, the great good we are doing makes little difference when there are one or two things of which we might disapprove.

To be evangelical, missional, and involved in the plight of the poor and marginalized — all signature characteristics of our Methodist heritage — means we will share some passions in common and disagree on others.  We have a simple, but huge choice to make.  We can either choose to focus on the things we share in common and overlook some personal opinions, or we can put our own agendas ahead of everyone else’s (including God’s) and only participate in churches that agree 100% with everything we believe (good luck with that).  Our church has a fabulous future, but only to the extent that we get over ourselves.

20 replies

  1. An excellent blog Dan. I hope and pray we can live up to the challenge as local churches and as a general conference.

  2. I usually hear this question from the opposite direction. Someone learns that I disagree with them on one of the divisive issues, so they ask, “If you disagree with the position of the United Methodist Church, why don’t you leave?” Without addressing the presumption that the questioner has the church on his or her side, I always reply that I am not a United Methodist, because of our stance on any issue. I am a United Methodist, because the unique Wesleyan theology best informs, describes, shapes and guides my understanding of who we are in relationship with one another and with God. The fact that we do not do a good job of teaching that theology in many of our churches makes it hard for people to claim it as what makes them United Methodist.

  3. Dan, I’m with you on this one. We long ago lost the art of compromise; just look at the mess in Washington these days! I just wish some of these who are leaving the UMC would tell me where they are going — where everyone agrees with them on everything from abortion to wall paint! I have worshipped in 15 different churches, four different denominations + at a synagogue and Roman Catholic church, and I have yet to find that ONE church with which I am in complete agreement. Thought about starting my own “Church of Dave”, but sometimes I don’t even agree with myself!

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