The UM Centrist Movement is an unusual animal. It is a caucus group that claims not to be a caucus group, and it has warned us vociferously against the menace of a schism all the while setting the stage for a division of the denomination. As for the schism against which it has warned us, the Centrists place the blame firmly upon the reactionary views of evangelicals. Get on the Centrist train, they say, and you can stand courageously against these evil, reactionary church splitters.
While making this claim with one hand, with the other they are offering a plan to divide the denomination into regional conferences. This is not a total institutional division involving a separation of assets, but it is likely the precursor. At the very least this plan would significantly weaken the global connection. As they state on their website, “We believe currently our arrangement fosters unhealthy paternalistic relationships, which creates conflicts over the allocation of resources. This is at a time when investment globally in local church ministry should be fostered through the creation of new and imaginative networks and partnerships that are not ‘institutional’ in nature.” In the next paragraph they write, “These ‘regional conferences’ would continue to maintain contact through our general agencies, the Council of Bishops, the Book of Discipline and a General Conference gathering that would address issues pertinent to the entirety of the global church.”
A couple of questions on these statements: First, how is the connection described—one that relies on agencies, bishops, the Discipline, and the General Conference–anything but institutional in nature? Second, aren’t the central conferences already maintaining contact through these institutional means? Perhaps the key phrase here is “maintain contact,” which is much weaker than, say, “be governed by.” Since the Centrists describe this form of government as “decentralized,” it would seem that they wish to move the primary locus of authority from the General Conferences to these regional conferences. This sounds a great deal like progressive plans to remove the African vote from significant governance decisions in North America.
Let’s be clear: this is a form of separation. And as we walk down this path of separation, even greater division is unlikely to be far behind.
Yes, some evangelicals have indeed called for division. Most have rejected this call. I have been quite vocal in rejecting it. But at least those who have called for division are calling it what it is. They are not preaching unity while, intentionally or not, loosening our global connection and setting the stage for further separation.
The UM Centrist Movement has made its name on the promise that it will preserve unity. Don’t be fooled by semantics: this would be a “unity” of only the thinnest sort. Unity in Christ requires more than such loose organizational affiliations.