Our Newest Plot Twist: Group of Eighty Calling for Division

Good News has just published a press statement regarding some eighty pastors and theologians who are calling for a division of the denomination.

A group of leading pastors and theologians released a progress report on their considerations regarding the future of The United Methodist Church. Hailing from all five jurisdictions, the more than 80 pastors and theologians have engaged in sober and prayerful conversations via conference call over the past two months. The discussion was launched because the group believes that our denomination is facing a crisis regarding 1.) covenant, 2.) organizational discipline, 3.) authority of Scripture, and 4.) discipleship. 

“deep breath* Ok…

First of all, on whose behalf do these eighty leading pastors and theologians speak? I can’t discern a direct affiliation with any particular caucus group. I’ve heard about these conversations, but I really don’t even know who was involved with them, with the exception of a few people. The fact that eighty pastors and theologians are calling for a split is not necessarily compelling for me, particularly since I don’t know who most of these folks are, what their positions are, or how they were selected to participate in this conversation. I would like to know how these folks arrived at this decision, and what plans they have for executing the division.

Additionally, before I support the formation of a new Wesleyan/Methodist denomination, I’d like to know what I’m signing on for. I have deep commitments to doctrinal orthodoxy, and I’m not in the least appreciative of the “ecclesial disobedience” that has taken place on the progressive side of our arguments. If there were a split, I would very likely go with the more conservative branch of the two divisions (assuming I went with either). It’s premature to make this judgment, however, without knowing what we’re getting into. How will the two groups describe the nature and function of scripture? What statements will each group make about human sexuality? How will each group determine its doctrinal standards? How will its polity be organized? How will it handle itinerancy? What will each group have to say about seminary education, and which schools will each group support?

A few more concerns:

There are some large churches that pay very large apportionments to their conferences. If I’m at a Ginghamsburg or a Church of the Resurrection, why would I wish to affiliate with either new denomination? How does that benefit my congregation? I could see many larger, wealthier congregations simply going independent.

What will happen to missionary work, schools, and other ministries that rely upon support from general boards and agencies of the denomination?

Can our current polity allow for a split? This may sound like a rather silly question, since if we divided we would no longer share a Book of Discipline. But the decision to split would have to come from within the UMC, and it would not surprise me at all if it were struck down by our Judicial Council. If that happens, then the only recourse will be to do what some progressive churches are doing right now, essentially divesting from the denomination. That could well lead to legal battles.Before going down this road, we would do well to learn from what has happened to the Episcopal Church.

I don’t believe in the reality of an amicable separation. Yes, we may separate, but it will not be amicable. It will be brutal. Will it be left to individual congregations to sort out which side of the dispute they want to go with? Top-level leaders sorting out the division of our pension fund may behave with all due civility, but the church council meetings that will follow will be ugly. The folks I really hurt for in all of this are the people of the local church whose lives are not wrapped up in the political realities of our denominations, people who just want to attend church, worship God, and do good. Many of those people will leave and not come back. They will go to Bible churches, other denominations, or simply never return to church.

All this having been said, I stand by what I wrote on ecclesial disobedience: if it continues, the inevitable result will be division. There is no way around it. Ecclesial disobedience represents a breakdown in the way in which we order our lives together. That breakdown has already been quite costly, and it may cost us much more going forward.


28 thoughts on “Our Newest Plot Twist: Group of Eighty Calling for Division

  1. For some reason Joel, I can’t respond to your post. But anyways, the UMC is very conservative and evangelical if you go simply by the BOD. And yes, I know that “conservative” and “evangelical” are loaded words. Anyways, my whole point is that I am wary as well but this whole thing has been brought on by the blatant acts of disobedience to the Discipline. I mean, what do the progressive/liberals expect the conservative/evangelicals to do? Just turn a blind eye to it?

    I really wish someone from the liberal/progressive side would answer me that question: how are conservatives/evangelicals supposed to act? Are they just supposed to look the other way? Many of us have seriously listened to your arguments and have NOT been persuaded. What do you want us to do?

    • Josh, as a UMCer, I’ve agreed to live after the BoD. I expect others to follow it even if our opinions are differ because the BoD is our covenanting document. What is the point of a written contract if no one follows it? Likewise, I don’t expect those on the other side, especially when the BoD supports them, to promote schism.

      • So, do you think that the proper course of action for evangelical/conservatives is to just sit back and let the processes play out? I don’t necessarily disagree with that course of action but neither do I have confidence in it.

        I also wish everyone would quit using the word “schism” as if we are the one holy, apostolic church. The Anglican church “schismed” off of the RCC, and the Methodists in America “schismed” off of the Anglican/Episcopal church. What we are talking about is a bunch of people who are over the place philosophically, theologically, and every other kind of “ology” that you can think of and there’s not a whole lot of trust among us.

        I really do not want us to do something like the Episcopal church. A lot of money will be wasted, a lot of opportunities lost, a bad witness to the world, and all sorts of other sad consequences. But I also know that there is no way that we can continue together without holding one another accountable to the BOD. If that doesn’t happen then man, this thing’s over.

      • Josh, absolutely not. I don’t want those who argue for inclusion to sit back and do nothing either. I just want both sides to obey the BoD and if it is to be changed, then let be done via proper channels.

    • That is the question, Josh, that orthodox colleagues have raised with bishops & cabinets over and over again. From experience (“been there, done that”), I can tell you it’s NEVER caused bishops & cabinets to flinch from the path they’ve chosen. Never. But there has been a lot of patronizing. The end has come for the sleight of hand. It’s okay; you will flourish in the Spirit through it. Remember all that yak about “change” being what we need?? We will have it now!++

  2. Joel, if the sexual ethics of the BOD are changed, do you truly believe that evangelical/conservatives will simply say, “O.K. you win. I guess we’ll just have to go by your rules now.” No, you know that’s not going to happen.

    My question to liberals/progressives is “what is your end game?” You’ve not persuaded many at all through your arguments and they’ve picked a apart pretty handily over the past few years. The conclusion has been that we operate from different assumptions and those assumptions are not compatible. So, what’s going on? Are progressive/liberals saying “If you can’t persuade you, we’re going to force you.” I mean, I’m not hearing any new arguments that I didn’t hear 10 years ago. All I’m seeing now is a lot of political maneuvering and word play.

    I just don’t see any “win” for the progressive/liberals except that they might receive a bloated institutions that can’t pay its own bills. What is the “end game” here?

  3. There is already Spiritual, administrative and financial violence being imposed using the pretense of “Unity at any Cost” as a banner to justify any action. Regardless of where one stands on the issues “Say what you do, and do what you say” honestly and get on with it.

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