I always feel that I am serving some purpose when I blog and it turns out that I tick off everyone.  By “weighing in” on all the talk of splitting the church (officially) I have “taken sides.”  However, which side is a bit confusing and hard to determine.  Consider these five responses I received this week:

“An amicable split is the only option left to us.  The liberals want to tear the church apart and leave nothing worth saving.  Couching your obvious agenda as faithful and mature is a feeble attempt at covering the fact that those calling for unity want their own way at any cost.”  (I am siding with the liberals.)

“As long as our church finds church trials, the forced surrendering of credentials, exclusion of “types” of people, etc., there is no reason for us to stay together.  The institutional elite who care more about the institution than the God it represents will make us meaningless and irrelevant.  The conservative center wants the church to stay together for all the wrong reasons.  (I am siding with the conservative institutional preservationists.)

“Your call to keep the church together will actually speed its demise and destruction.  Forcing everyone to live in a poisonous, toxic, corrosive environment is not an act of faith, but violent oppression against all sides.  You want to lock African Americans in with the Klu Klux Klan and tell them it is okay, just be friends.  That’s stupid.  There are people on this earth who will NEVER get along.  Keep the wrong people together too long and the destruction will be complete.  God is not going to force us to be together, so why fight it?  (I am siding with those who want to destroy the church through a naïve belief in love, grace and the power of God.)

“If money weren’t the real issue, we would have already split.  Nobody really cares if this is God’s will.  The only real concern is pensions and a guaranteed salary and adequate benefits — and who would control the multi-millions of dollars in the church.  You are fooling yourself if you think anyone cares what God thinks of all this.  You may use words of faith, but Jerry Maguire is written all over your posts — “show me the money.”  (I side with the corporate shills who only see church as a business.)

“You seem to be against the authority of scripture, wanting us to tolerate evil and the powers of sins to tear up God’s church.  The church is a worldly, manmade thing — it is not holy in itself.  You are sinning when you worship the church more than God.  Evil people won’t leave the church, so it is up to us who still believe the Bible to go before it is too later.”  (Apparently, I am against the Bible, holiness, and all that is good, and I am promoting sin and evil by calling us to reconciliation and unity beyond differences…)

What to do when no side will claim me?  Every side says I am on “the other” side.  Hmmm.  There are a lot of sides, and it seems I am not actually on any of them, because I am ON none of them — I am only ON some other…  I could take the coward’s way out and simply claim that I am on “God’s side,” often used to try to shut up anyone and everyone with the audacity to disagree.  I could claim to be on no side, but people don’t let you do that.  There has to be a side, no matter how small and narrowly defined, upon which you can be pinned.  I could claim to be on everyone’s side — a silly way of actually attempting to be on no side.

Or, I could be a United Methodist.  The brilliance of our denomination is that at our best we have learned that we are significantly less than perfect, but that working through our weaknesses, blind spots, prejudices, immaturity, pig-headedness, lack of respect and consideration together is preferable to isolating ourselves and wallowing in our own spiritual crapulence.  The fact that we invite everyone to bring their values, beliefs, worldviews, opinions and biases to the table (good or bad, enlightened or not, inclusive or exclusive) is a sign of hope and a glimpse of the kingdom come upon the earth — as long as we don’t behave like spoiled, bratty children.  The toleration of ambiguity, ability to hold multiple perspectives objectively, and willingness to engage in respectful and civil rapport through disagreement are simple signs of maturity and grace.  We spend two decades of every life attempting to instill such behaviors in our children.  Obviously, we haven’t done an exemplary job.

So, what sides do we actually have in this debate of ours?  The model I used to describe it (developed when I was still at GBOD, so it is six years old — but I actually don’t think things have changed much… other than it is the first thing I remember ultra-liberals and uber-conservatives agreeing on in a long time):

Schism Spectrum

My read on my own surveys and the research I have seen from other sources says that only about 13% (8+% conservative; 4+% liberal) are deeply committed to splitting the church, but that an additional 10-12% (same two-to-one ratio as before) are open to the idea and seriously think it should be explored.  The moderate position (also called “the opposition” are taking an “if it ain’t broke, don’t break it” position.  This is still at the 60+% strong stage, and makes the concept of a 2/3 majority vote to split highly unlikely.  Factor in the odd-triangle of African Central Conferences (theological conservatives, social progressives, justice liberals — with grossly inadequate resources) and the momentum for dissolution wanes further.

As with all the misguided talk about restructuring last quadrennium, wasting a lot of energy discussing the dismemberment of the UM body of Christ merely allows us to sidestep the more important conversations about what we should be doing instead of fixating on all the ways we are failing.  Let’s finally decide what United Methodists believe about Gay/Lesbian/Bi-Sexual/Transgender/Queer/Questioning/Exploring/Inquiring/Experimenting.  Then it will be up to the conscience of every member of the covenant to agree/disagree, stay or go.  Let’s quit trying to make everybody happy and say clearly “here is where The United Methodist Church is at this time.”  It will be painful — we define everything in terms of winners and losers.  But instead of abdicating personal responsibility and institutional accountability, let’s suck it up and tell the world who we are.  It is time for our witness to be “we stand behind our values and beliefs,” instead of “we can’t make up our minds, so we all will just go off and do our own thing our own way.”



15 replies

  1. Dan, whether we are on any side, or no side, I do think and believe that John the Baptist and Jesus had it right at the beginning of their ministries: “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.” That is the same message that our world, and especially the UMC, needs to hear today. Why does the UMC need to hear about repenting? Because in our living, we end up forgetting this message. Which in turn leads to arrogance and talking of schism – like we own and operate God’s church in this world!
    It is living a life of repentance and the works that are a result of such repentance that we are able to go onto be entirely sanctified. Schism, in whatever forms it may take in the UMC, does not bring us closer to being holy as God is holy.

  2. You write:

    Let’s finally decide what United Methodists believe about Gay/Lesbian/Bi-Sexual/Transgender/Queer/Questioning/Exploring/Inquiring/Experimenting.

    Haven’t we done that already? How can we finally decide what we have already decided and then re-decided?

    • Well, no, see that is part of the problem. A careful reading of our Discipline reveals a chronic problem in a denomination that historically has tried to straddle an inclusive middle line. We currently have contradictory statements about inclusion, a commitment not to discriminate, and affirmation of the value and worth of all people — reminiscent of our contradictory language on labor rights and slavery in the 19th century, and gender and race rights in the 20th century. Until we bring alignment and accuracy to our statements, we will continue to plunge the church in ambiguity and foster more discord than unity. At present (as many times in our history) we are using language in different parts of our Discipline that allows every side to both find support and cry foul — and to “prove” that those who disagree with one reading over another are in “violation” of the Discipline. Once more, we hope to settle an ethical and communal definition of our identity and purpose through legalistic and dogmatic means. Let us all be glad we are the people of a patient and forgiving God.

  3. So why is this ringing of the fighting sides concerning this mess our democratic country has found itself in – how’s the conservative/liberal in-fighting working for America???
    I’ve been a member of the United Methodist Church all my life. I’m not theologically astute and don’t use my written words elegantly, so perhaps some will say that what I have to say is not worth considering.
    From what I’ve heard, this whole separation thing is based on the sexuality issue. I don’t begin to understand why for me showing affection to my dearest, life-long girlfriends is a matter of greeting them with a kiss on the cheek and a long, close hug – – and for a gay or lesbian, their way of showing affection to someone of the same sex can include more sexual feelings. But I don’t HAVE to understand. All I HAVE to understand is that both scenarios are based in Love – and seems like in my many years of United Methodist Sunday School classes, there was a lot of talk about Love being something that God and Jesus were pushing!
    So seems like if you want to split up the Church because of the the Gays and Lesbians and their “sins” that have to do with the way they express Love enough for a person that they want to commit to spending the rest of their lives together in a committed relationship, that you might want to remember that quote – “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” Who are you to judge on behalf of God? Somehow I think God, if indeed He is in the shape of person-hood sitting up on His throne by the rainbow bridge, that He would be more tolerant of a “sin” dealing with Love, caring, and gentleness, than of a “sin” of anger, superiority, or hatred.
    Thank you Dan for your thoughts and open-minded blog.
    Thank you for your consideration.

  4. Interesting – I never considered you on a side – in fact I thought you were doing a pretty good job of not picking sides at all. My frustration is that it seems appears to be a stalemate – the “sides” (being the progressives v. conservatives) keep repeating the same arguments and don’t appear to listen to really talk with each other. As long as that continues I don’t see how the denomination can move forward and will stay stuck in a rut. However, what you wrote in in your original post on this topic gave me a lot to think about and consider and I thank you.

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