There are hopeful spots popping up in the most unexpected places, rays of light that forecast both hope and gloom.
First, pastors and laity in the North Georgia Annual Conference, they have signed a unity covenant. The United Methodists of Mississippi are passing one, at least around. The North Texas Annual Conference rebelled against the IRD. What you have are United Methodists in the Deep South standing against schism (ironic on so many levels). Finally, Adam Hamilton and Mike Slaughter, UMC megachurch pastors, have their own signing statement going around. There are some issues with the statement, but the truly remarkable thing is that there is a statement that people can discuss.
There are several proposals and more to follow.
This looks good…
And this looks bad. If there is a schism, it will not be this or that annual conference, but the schism in the UMC will reach down to the congregational level. What then? What pastors will be without a church and what sheep without a pastor? This is not a geographical issue, as we saw in the 1840′s, but an ideological one, as we saw in the 1820′s when the MPC split.
Speaking of splits…while the UMC is “new” it is the union of the ME and the EUB. The ME is the reunion is of the ME and the ME-South (split in 1844) and the MPC (split in 1828). What happened? The ME kept going as groups left…and rejoined a hundred years later (give or take a long decade).
The Gang of 80, I believe, have awakened the middle, as they did in the 2004 General Conference. While some will claim these 80 represent thousands, they don’t. They officially represent no one but themselves, at least according to the covenant of the Book of Discipline. The annual conferences, on the other hand, represent something official — and they represent unity. While there are those who are opposed to unity, such as the Minnesota Annual Conference, there are many more who are supportive.
The middle is present, regardless of those who either dismiss it, call it names, or redefine it so as to suggest the middle must remain either quite or side with the so-called conservatives. We see it. Some of us, many of us, are it.