Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus
May 23rd, 2014 by Joel Watts

.00064% of the #UMC just called for schism – what that really means

English: Flag of the Requetes of the Tradition...

English: Flag of the Requetes of the Traditionalist Movement of Spain during the Spanish Civil War. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You can see my response here to the initial stories. After due consideration, I want to call attention to some issues as well as make a few predictions.

First, notice that Good News Magazine released the press release and did the story as if the group is separate from them.

Excursus: let me call your attention to what Kevin Carnahan noticed, that the language of the nearly-anonymous group is strangely un, if not anti-, Wesleyan when it comes to the role of Scripture.

Second, I will state that of the 80 pastors said to be a part of this group, we know only a few names. These are the sames names – Maxie Dunnam, Tom Harrison, Charles Savage, Larry Baird – we have seen passed around before.

Let’s break down just how insignificant these numbers really are. They say they have 80 pastors, “representing” 5 jurisdictions, and 30 annual conferences. There are 133 annual conferences in the United Methodist Church. There are also roughly 12,500,000 members worldwide. Surely these men consulted the worldwide body, even if LGBT inclusion is starting to take hold in Africa.

That means that a very small percentage of the UMC met and decided for the rest of us that schism was the best way forward.

How small?

  • If by total population: .00064% of the 12,500,000 United Methodists worldwide just called for schism.
  • If by annual conferences “represented:” 22.5% of the UMC’s worldwide annual conferences were represented. That is roughly 2.5 pastors for each conference they claim to represent.
  • If by jurisdictional conference: 7.3% of the 68 jurisdictions were “represented.”

Let’s put that into numbers Americans can understand. We have a population of 300,000,000 people in our 50 states. For our purposes, the states will take the place of the annual conferences.

  • 1920 people just called for dissolution of the Union.
  • Only 11 states are represented (the connection to the Confederacy is purely a coincidence). That means only about 175 people in each of those 12 states (say one of them is Texas) wants to end the Union. Shoot, say you live Wyoming with its population of almost 600,000. Would you really want 175 unelected representatives deciding in a secret meeting to dissolve the union on your behalf? That also means 37 states weren’t “represented.”

You see why it is laughable. Further, given that as of now we only have 4 names presented the reality of the situation presents an even greater disparity. These numbers also completely debunk the hopeful few who suggest schism has already occurred. It’s like picking the crusties out of your eye and suggesting the body has already died.

By the way, if it is true that 80 pastors have called for schism, then produce those names. Let those pastors stand by their actions. Let them be counted and let’s see who they are. I suspect that either the number is inflated via various creative ways. Further, this is not the first time someone has accused this group of number inflation.

Prediction:

  1. Very shortly, we will see the merger of these caucus groups into one umbrella organization. Why? Because, behind whatever reason they are going to tell you, they need the resources… resources that are quickly becoming limited. Further, if one group has 10 members and other 3, then together they have 13…12…11. You get the picture. The reason they will merge is not because they want to, but because they’ll have to.
  2. The list of pastoral and theological supporters are shrinking, not because the positions are changing, but because the nature of the conversation is no longer about making disciples. Rather, the it is becoming apparent to many that some will stop at nothing short of a schism.
  3. The 2016 General Conference will be the highwater mark of the schismatics. After that, there may be attempts, but will not reach the furor we see today.

Why? Because more and more moderates are becoming active and Via Media is once again achieving success. It is causing us to reconsider our Wesleyan variety of orthodoxy and as such, we cannot hold to the fundamentalism, nor to the pluralistic liberality, set before us.

In looking at these numbers, I think we’ve been catfished.

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Joel Watts
Watts holds a MA in Theological Studies from United Theological Seminary. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians, as well as seeking an MA in Clinical Mental Health at Adams State University. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

Comments

11 Responses to “.00064% of the #UMC just called for schism – what that really means”
  1. Your math doesn’t exactly add up. If many of these 80 clergy represent some of our larger churches, these clergy are representing a much larger constituency. Plus, what’s the big deal anyways with trying to do the math at this stage? Many more people, including myself, believe a split is a good idea. And somebody has to get the ball rollling!

    • No, the math adds up because the anonymity of the group. Yes, there may be pastors of larger congregations, but likewise, there may be 65 pastors of congregations of 13. Plus, do these pastors speak for every member of their congregation?

      Some people want the split because of their own internal heresy. That is fine. That is found everywhere.

  2. Just thinking, how many Founding Fathers did this country have and what percentage of the population were they, since you made the political analogy? 33% of the folks in the colonies wanted to remain English. Another third were neutral, waiting to see who won and only the last third, at most, supported the Revolution. Hummm. Yet, here we are. Don’t get me wrong, I think a split is a bad idea. We will end up with two weaker organizations most likely. However, I think your numbering system avoids the reality that the last Gen Conf was split nearly right down the middle. That’s more like 50/50 than .00064.

    • was there a vote for a schism at the last general conference? The real split is on the existing language of the BoD, not in favor/opposed to a split.

      And yes, you has 33% who openly advocated for rebellion and waged war. You had 1/3 who didn’t care. The numbers in the UMC aren’t like that.

  3. I bet the same 80 believe in ID and 6 day creation. I would like to see a poll on their beliefs on evolution and the Big Bang. They might as well go for inerrancy, then rename UMC as Southern Baptists.

  4. Joel I think schism is coming much faster than most can imagine. I do not think that it is only these guys who want it; it is also those on the “left” side of the spectrum. Many of us are moderates from the evangelical wing of the UMC. We don’t neatly fit with the progressives nor do we fit with the “80”. I think that all things big are imploding; especially religious organizations. People left and right, seem to crave authenticity and desire to be part of healthy and vibrant communities of faith. I think/feel that the divide in the UMC has created a sickening atmosphere that generates hatefulness and despair.
    So what will happen to those who are moderate evangelicals, in the event of a split? I think that they will join loose networks of like minded people as opposed to joining a new denomination that will require a property/land trust clause. Who in their right mind would do that now?
    Jdg

    • Maybe, but any legislation at GC would still have to be approved by judicial council – and that ain’t going to happen. Rather, what will happen is pastors would leave. Maybe they will be granted leave, or maybe they will leave and argue in the courts.

      But no, I think this latest round proves schism is actually slipping further and further away.

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