Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus
May 17th, 2016 by Joel Watts

The UMC Slaughtered?

I awoke this morning, as I usually do, tired only to stumble to the shower while I’m checking my phone. As I scrolled through twitter while my water warms up, I noticed the suggestion that today the Council of Bishops would issue a call for separation.

pastor's tears

I have lately written on what I consider malfeasance of episcopal office. This is no less the case again. Because of General Conference 2016 there is a real possibility that the bishops will be held accountable, even with term limits, for failing to uphold the Book of Discipline. Likewise, election and legislation has given the evangelicals the weight of General Conference going forward.

This doesn’t mean the conversation on inclusion would be dead, but it does mean that intentional violation of the Book of Discipline is certainly over, even by Bishops.

But, I didn’t think that is what was happening. While others are already lamenting the process, I believed something else is going on.

It’s stunt. It’s a stunt whereby the “megas” and others float fear and chaos and see if it can stoke a response.

Last night, the Council of Bishops met in executive session — with a group of clergy representing caucus groups not officially part of The United Methodist Church — who then immediately ran to tell everyone that schism was going to began today at 11am. Of course, this was widely reported by Rev. Mike Slaughter (by name) and the centrists, or as they are officially called, the West Ohio Annual Conference delegation.

One delegate reported on Facebook that last night at dinner, Mike Slaughter relayed the mandated briefings:

Rev. Mike Slaughter one of the leading Centrist voices in our denomination, made an announcement to the entire delegation. We were told the delegations of all conferences were to receive the same basic message. For sometime a group of Bishops privately gathered leading pastors and our largest caucus groups (Good News, Institute for Religion on and Democracy, Confessing Movement on the right/Reconciling Ministries, Methodist Federation for Social Action, Love Prevails on the left) for a series of conversations around the question of can the United Methodist Church move forward in regard to the question of gay and lesbian inclusion. Short answer was no. The far right and far left are entrenched in their theological understandings. The group also faced a reality that by 2020 and beyond our African United Methodist sisters and brothers would control the church so what this would mean practically is that the United Methodist Church would be on a trajectory to become ever more conservative on a whole host of issues. Our leaders believe the hour has arrived for a loving separation. The Executive Committee of the Council of Bishops are meeting tonight in Portland to consider a prepared plan that will be presented to the General Conference tomorrow. The plan would call for the creation of a commission to guide the separation of the United Methodist Church. General Conference would gather again in 2018 to approve the final plan that will largely save our pension system and deal with matters of property. The commission will also explore other endeavors Methodists in new churches could do together. In the interim, for the next two years, there will be a moratorium on charges and trials for gay and lesbian clergy and clergy who perform same sex marriages. The plan right now is three churches. A conservative church, a moderate church, and a progressive church.

Note what the “Centrists” movement said,

The call for schism was not by the Council of Bishops, but by Rev. Mike Slaughter and his own caucus group, the Centrists.

This was in connection with other pro-inclusion groups,

At best, this is a bad edition of the telephone game; at worst, it appears to be a stunt orchestrated by Mike Slaughter and conducted by the Centrists in concert with LYNC and Love Prevails.

Let me note Bishops are denying the meeting took place while others are saying unity is the goal:

Let that sink in. If the report from West Ohio is to believed, Rev. Mike Slaughter seems to have purposely abused the name, confidentiality, and authority of the Council of Bishops to engineer something only he was concerned about. Slaughter, et. al, attempted to exert and coerce the General Conference into an action with fear, manipulation, political grandstanding.

[bctt tweet=”The schism talk was either a telephone game gone bad, or worse #UMCGC” username=”ejoelwatts”]

Rev. Adam Hamilton said in this morning’s seminary presentation that he had hoped that the talk of schism(s) would lead to a reconsideration of third way plans. This is an admission, as far as I’m concerned, that this stunt is nothing but an attempt to control.

By the way, Good News released a statement:

Thankfully, the Council of Bishops responded with a call for unity. Conversations held doesn’t mean official action. I appreciate Bishop Ough’s careful response this morning.

Tears. Not politics. Not stunts. Not fear. Tears will bring us unity because tears will bring repentance.

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

6 Responses to “The UMC Slaughtered?”
  1. Those of us not associated with your faith clan — but connected to you through Christ in His faith family — are praying for meaningful unity for UMC via humility and discernment on behalf of all believers and because the good name of our Lord is again close to dishonor due to schism, as all this is being viewed by non-believers. Help, O Lord, your people…

  2. My thoughts as well; it’s a bluff designed to force compromise.

  3. Have you ever wondered what the church would look like if we took Romans 1:28-32 as seriously and literally as some seem to take the section just prior to it? I suspect if we made gossip a chargeable offense we’d be out of clergy in less than a quadrennium…

  4. The most troubling feature of the current debate is the persistent use of a political spectrum (Left, Right, Center) to refer to groups. In terms of UM culture, being a Centrist rather automatically means being the most open, reasonable and committed to unity, because not “extreme.” The constant use of this spectrum only make things worse. It shows how hijacked we are by American political culture.

  5. So was this whole thing a ‘throw it against the wall and see what sticks’ exercise? That is extremely disheartening – and seems very dishonest as well, to me. 🙁

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