Preaching Unity, Practicing Division

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.

9 thoughts on “Preaching Unity, Practicing Division

  1. I’m not in the same camp as the UM Centrist Movement. But I do share the goal for and concern over unity. I don’t think you’ve fairly characterized their views. If we must write about the proposals offered by others could we please more fairly describe their istated intentions and credit them with good faith? It’s fair game to criticize them so long as we do so fairly. And that should start with honestly a acknowledging their intentions and the pluses of their plan.

    I do believe, David, that you genuinely yearn for unity and that the A&W plan is one attempt at that. So to is the Centrist Movement aiming for unity. Whereas some (like me and RMN) place justice ahead of obedience even if that comes across as a threat to unity, and others (such as Good News) place obedience to BoD as currently written ahead of individual conscience and prefer schism as a Plan B if the current BoD not upheld both judicially and legislatively… I do acknowledge that the UM Centrist folks place denominational unity ahead of both justice and denominational obedience. Those three positions each have scriptural mandates. I think it is wrong for you to substitute your estimation of what may lead to disunion for what the UM Centrists are actually intending. We should separate our analysis from other folks intentions.

    For example, I can’t foresee the survival of UMC as a major American denomination without some significant change to our derogatory, discriminatory and punitive language about homosexuality. Likewise it will be hard to remain global without granting the U.S. some local adaptability such as our non-U.S. central conferences gave. But I’m not sure how we might best make some progress in that direction whilst still preserving unity (which remains a high value for me). I hope we figure it out by 2016.

    I do appreciate your voice and also that of the self-named UM Centrists and others as we works towards that.

  2. Looks like a bunch of OH clergy. The web nerd says, it’s interesting they are using a ‘Politics & Activism’ wordpress theme (called Social Activity, can look it up on Themeforest). This tells me what someone was searching for when building said website. Sorry, web nerd gets the best of me sometimes.

  3. David – Thanks for this important reflection. For people who are not in Ohio like me, it,s encouraging to hear evangelical voices speak against division. I very much resonate with your views on this issue. God’s not done yet with the UMC!

  4. I cannot begin to list all the issues with this centrist proposal. Let’s start with itinerancy. –The intent will be to protect effective clergy from “clergy-killer congregations,” remove ineffective clergy, diminish the fear of potential moves in clergy families and local churches alike” and “each spring they live in the fear of receiving “the call” to go elsewhere regardless of the needs of a spouse and children. A process requiring greater accountability of clergy through the elimination of guaranteed appointment and laity by giving them the responsibility to maintain a more transparent profile of their congregation (particularly if a congregation has a history of being “clergy-killers”, they needed to be named and dealt with appropriately). —It should also allow superintendents to spend less time on appointments.
    Who and by what criteria decides which churches are clergy killers? Once a church is on that list how does it get off? By what mechanism do we decide who the effective clergy are? Once the ineffective clergy are removed we will have to send effective clergy to clergy killing churches. How will that work out? This looks more like a call system instead of a sent system and if we have clergy who cannot find a church to accept them then they are gone. Or are they? What if they are effective and cannot find a church will they still be sent away? These details matter. As to the fear of moving, that generates little sympathy with me having spent a career in the military where I moved every two or three years. It is what I signed up for and so do our clergy. This centrist proposal is a fundamental change in how The Methodist Church will do clergy appointments and it deserves serious scrutiny. The DS will spend less time on appointments and even more time determining who the effective clergy and killer churches are. And of course for the ineffective clergy who are being removed there will be review boards, appeal processes and mountains of paper all put on the DS. I just do not see this happening.

    What I do see is a big step toward congregationalism. If that is where we are going then let’s be honest about that.

    • Yep, I just lump these “centrists,” “lib/progs,” and UM bureaucracy loyalists all into the one “problem” pile. All they want to do is judge, judge, judge, judge. They judge us who seek to follow in the footsteps of Christ and of Wesley as “bigots” and “hateful” people and all other sorts of nastiness. They judge the people in the pew as hopeless (and by the way, it’s the system of the UMC that spiritually formed such people – hey Dr. Frankenstein, you created the monster!). They judge people in the church instead of seeing them as “sheep” to be lead and fed. They call people “schismatics” and all this other silliness.

      And the cause for this is that they are in crisis too. Their little world is breaking down and they don’t know what to do. They don’t know how to grow churches, feed sheep, and bring about renewal. The don’t know how to minister in the power of the Spirit. They don’t know how to grow churches and lead people into fruitful ministry. They want the good ol’ days of being able to self-righteously denounce the “conservatives” and others who they deem to be too far “right” – and then mosey on back to their comfortable little (dying) church that pays them a huge salary. Well, them days are over. I’m personally tired of all this and if something significant does not happen at GC 2016, then the following years are going to see some very fast decline and deterioration. And I mean fast.

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