There’s an old curse that goes, “May you live in interesting times.” For better or worse, the times we live in are indeed interesting, at least in the UMC. The actions of a number of clergy and some bishops in the UMC have seriously undermined the force of our canon law. The status of the actions of the General Conference is up in the air. The restoring of Frank Schafer’s credentials throws these matters into sharper relief. In light of recent events, one might ask to what extent the actions of the General Conference are binding and whether they have any de facto force. To put the matter differently, our method of self-government has broken down, and we don’t really know how to fix it.
I have no idea what the future holds. I feel like the denomination is being pried apart by a relatively small percentage of its members and leaders. We are considering changing our internal governance structures in significant ways in order to accommodate the ideological divide that has become the focus of much of our public discourse. I don’t have the wisdom or insight to see a way forward. I pray someone else does. I’m grateful for those folks who have offered plans for how to move forward, but I haven’t come across one that I can affirm in good conscience.
Meanwhile, great work is going on at the level of the local church. The people I most care about in all of this are those sitting in the pews, faithful women and men who want to know God, do good, and fellowship with other believers. I think of my mom and dad. My mom is a life long Methodist, and my dad has been a Methodist for at least fifty years. They have always loved and tried to serve the church. They have served on United Methodist Women and Men, driven for Meals on Wheels, given their money, sung in the choir, served on church boards, taught Sunday school, and attended worship just about every week. They are not particularly ideological people. The last thing they need is for the high-level politics of the denomination to come crashing down into their local church life. I pray that doesn’t happen. There are many people like them.
For those of us who are elders and deacons in the denomination, let us remember that regardless of the state of our church, we are still under the mandate to care for the spiritual well-being of our charges.
This is a time for cool heads and reasoned responses. No, the present state of affairs cannot continue, but let’s remember in all of this that we’re Christians. That should mean something with regard to the way in which we engage one another. Whether we stay together, separate, or find some happy medium between the two, let’s remember to do no harm, do good, and attend upon the ordinances of God. Whatever comes next, it should be discerned in prayer, repentance, and humility.
We live in a society that is increasingly polarized. Mainline Protestantism reflects this. Now is the time for us to set an example of disagreement without malice. We’re Christians. As we move forward through this mess, let’s act like it.