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. Our denomination is a mirror reflection of our culture. This is no big surprise of course. Still, it is disappointing to see our denomination frozen by not just the gay issue but others as well that seem to have produced a body that cannot make a meaningful decisions. We look more like Congress everyday. Whether we stay together or split, if we cannot offer a unified voice of hope and compassion to people in need in this culture maintaining our existence here will make no difference one way or the other. The Eternal will find other groups and other means to accomplish his/her goals.

  2. I guess my entire criticism of this entire approach (not taking sides) is that if you are a pastor of a church, the issue arises, it is in the air we breathe, almost everyone has a gay person in their extended family, and in any congregation, word travels. No on is immune from “taking sides” — if in fact they work in that capacity. I am a 15 year old boy (me decades ago) bawling my eyes out to my pastor, sitting in his office, telling him of my same sex attractions. Aside from loving me, he has only a limited number of doctrinal responses to offer because the issue itself is pretty black and white: either I can “act on” them or not. He either says, the attractions are okay, but don’t act on them, or I hope you settle down and find someone to love of the same sex. Many years later I return to him after having fallen in love with a member of the same sex. Either he can rejoice in that or express concern or some other response. I suppose there are some shades of grey — commitment and monogamy are better than promiscuity, maybe homosexuality is not “God’s best” as Joel Osteen would say because it does not involve procreation but it may be better than available alternatives. Perhaps I can be welcomed into the congregation with my partner but not have the church validate the relationship in other ways like marriage. But regardless of how or what the pastor does, whatever he/she does or says is not likely to remain a secret. And that will be noted by everyone.

  3. I know that there is a bit of hyperbole in your post, but don’t fall into the tempting trap of equating individual responses with the view of a “side.” Part of what makes it possible for us to stick together with at least some semblance of caring community is our willingness to recognize that no one person speaks for the critical mass of people, who tend to be like minded on a specific issue, but have nuanced views, and may disagree on other important issues. In fact you know that there are many, many people within all of the various sides you listed, who share your yearning for community in the midst of our painful brokenness.

    • You reiterate part of my point wonderfully — in order for our church to even seriously discuss a split, it demands that we take a highly nuanced, deeply complex and convoluted system and reduce it to a simplistic, binary “us/them”. My attempt at reminding everyone that there is a bell-curve distribution here is to say there aren’t really “sides” but dynamic positions along a broad, diverse spectrum. The desire of people to categorize and label is a shorthand approach to dismissing those who don’t say “helpful” things — therefore, NOT on our side!

  4. It just seems so disingenuous to call for everyone to stay together when some folks are essentially trying to kick other folks out of the church and claim they can’t even *be* Christians.

    Also… you don’t *vote* on civil rights. You don’t vote on whether all people are equal and deserve equal protection and consideration. You especially don’t vote on whether God accepts some people more than other people.

    If it’s up to the majority, LGBT people would be kicked out of the life of the church–and the majority would probably “win” by a fairly large margin right now. And that would be so, so hate-full.

    • But my point is that we don’t give up and walk away. This is not a solution, but an abdication to become what God is calling us to. Pointing fingers at the “other” side and saying they won’t cooperate is the victim’s game. Do we believe that God can guide us to a better place? Do we believe that we can “grow up” together in Christ? Do we believe in the power of God’s grace to transform or not? If we believe God is bigger than our grievances, then we should stay together and work it out, no matter how messy and painful it is. If our own self-ish desires are more important to us than making room at the table for everyone, then we split. I personally believe we have more potential as one body than a mass of dismembered parts.

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