There is an unfortunate myth floating about that evangelicals want to divide the UMC. The fact of the matter is, I know a lot of evangelicals, and while a few of them really want division, the vast majority want us to work out our differences and move forward without any kind of major separation of the denomination. If the majority of evangelicals wanted to divide the church badly enough, they would do so. As we have seen with the Episcopal Church, property and pensions cannot hold a denomination together.
The idea that evangelicals will vote the church into division at General Conference is simply unrealistic. Just for the sake of argument, let’s assume for a moment that most evangelicals do want division (an assumption that I do not in fact hold). Let’s also assume that enough of these divisive folks were elected to General Conference to gain a majority vote. How would they go about dividing the denomination at General Conference? Through legislation? What form could such legislation take? It would either require a constitutional amendment or violate the constitution of the UMC. In the first case, it would take a supermajority of delegates and annual conferences to pass. That such legislation could gain such widespread support seems exceedingly unlikely. In the second case, it would be struck down by the Judicial Council. It would be pointless, and any delegate worth his or her salt will know this. If the division of the church does happen, it won’t happen through legislation. It will happen by individual churches leaving the denomination, and possibly forming some other type of association among themselves.
One additional question: what actually constitutes division? It seems to me that, say, abolishing the General Conference and dividing instead into regional conferences could be considered a form of division. One could argue that such a form of government greatly undermines our common witness on matters of faith and ethics and actually constitutes a loose association of denominations under the name “United Methodist.” Personally, I think that the greatest potential to divide the church could come through something like A Way Forward. Placing decisions about human sexuality in the hands of local congregations will most certainly split churches, and will likely cause others to leave the denomination.
There are other ways to divide than through some type of legal separation of assets. As I’ve argued before, real unity must have some substance to it.