Breaking up is hard to do (Let’s admit it is time)

divorce-articleNeil Sedaka was right. Breaking up is hard to do. It is messy, especially when there is money, property, children, and all the rest involved. We are talking a lot about that in the United Methodist Church. We are talking about it in the language of marriage really. We talk about divorce being messy. We talk about the money, the property, the “children” (congregations). It is difficult. I am going to continue that language in most of this post as I find it appropriate.

While I maintain that we have issues that run deeper than sexual ethics and morality, I will start by addressing those since those are the only things we seem willing to talk about most days. Can a marriage really survive with two diametrically opposed views on sexual morality?  Let’s just be honest here and admit, without arguing who is right or wrong, that we have a group of people who view sex between two of the same gender as sexually immoral, and a group of people who do not. That is a diametrically opposed viewpoint. In order to help us understand better, let’s look at some other issues of sexual immorality that have caused problems in marriage.

“At a 2003 meeting of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, two-thirds of the 350 divorce lawyers noted that the Internet was playing an increasing role in marital splits, with excessive online porn watching contributing to more than half of the divorces.” (Huffington Post 05/29/2011 Vicki Larson Co-author of “The New I Do,” journalist, mom)

This is older information of course and it is noted that the trend is increasing. This is a result of two differing views on sexual immorality. One view says that porn is acceptable and the other says that it is not. The result? An increasing number of divorces. The best divorce statistics we have right now say that approximately 17% of all divorces are due exclusively to marital infidelity, and that over 80% of marriages involving infidelity end in divorce. Adultery is another act of sexual immorality. Another result of two differing views on sexual immorality. There are more things that we could list, but this should be sufficient to demonstrate the point. Remember, we are not even talking about the morality of anything, just the reality that we have drastically different views on what is and what is not sexually immoral. That does not bode well for a marriage.

Why do we have such a differing views on sexual immorality? For the most part, it is because we approach scripture from completely different understandings and starting points. To add this to our context of marriage, can a marriage survive when the couple has two different ideas of what the truth is and two (or more) ideas about where the search for truth starts and ends?  Sooner or later those ideas are going to come into conflict. The longer you are together, the more likely and severe the conflict will get. Eventually (and I would say this is where we are now), you end up with drastically different world views to the point that any meaningful communication is nigh impossible. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that person A has a few statements (say 25 or so) that they believe are true and form the basis of how they are going to live life and move forward. Person B not only says that those statements do not matter, but believes things to be true and advocates an approach to life that contradicts those. Is that really going to work as a marriage for very long? If it does, I hardly think it would be healthy. Marriages that do not share understandings of truth, have shared goals, shared dreams, and shared beliefs often end in divorce, or are at the very least unhealthy. Two people can not go in two different directions and then claim that they are going to the same place.

I think that I have beat the dead horse of the marriage analogy enough for now. Let’s talk our history. The split over slavery comes up a lot in the United Methodist Church when we talk about sexual ethics. In a nutshell the position of the church was against slavery. Some Bishops wanted to have slaves. The church sanctioned those Bishops (one resigned beforehand) and those who disagreed with said sanction left to form the Methodist Episcopal Church South. Again, let’s look at this not from a moral point of view, but from a purely practical one. A group could not, in good conscience (I am being generous here) live with the church’s beliefs on an issue and they separated. What do we have today? The same basic scenario, save for now we have those who can not live with the church’s beliefs being disruptive and unwilling to leave. While I find the reasons for the Methodist Episcopal church leaving repugnant, I can at least respect their willingness to not cause continued conflict and instead leave to live out the vision of Christianity they had that was incompatible with their parent denomination.

We are at that point. It is time for the break up. We simply are not able and/or willing to live with each other any more. It will be messy, it will be nasty and it will be ugly. Unlike other divorces though, in this case we are breaking up because we still maintain some love for each other and understand that it may be a divorce from each other, but it is not a divorce from Christ. The church is and always will be His bride. We are breaking up because that is what is in our power to live peaceably with each other. We are breaking up because the promises that we made and the covenant that we share has been broken with no attempt or desire for reconciliation. We are breaking up because we recognize that the denomination that we serve is not in agreement at all over several core issue. things like the Articles of Religion, basic approaches to scripture and it’s interpretation. Things that form the foundation of our faith. Mostly we are breaking up because we, like a lot of couples, are using sex to mask what the problems really are instead of addressing the deeper issues. Look for more in the future on this including some explanation on why third way proposals and compromises end up not working, why the Bishops council really is dead on arrival, and what the future might hold for all of us.

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20 Replies to “Breaking up is hard to do (Let’s admit it is time)”

  1. You might appreciate these two articles:

    How is there a “way forward” when one group thinks they are the enlightened ones and the rest of the church is “lagging behind”? The Bishop from the Oregon area used those exact words–lagging behind– in commending that conference’s Board of Ordained Ministry for making the right decision to no longer consider the sexuality of candidates. These liberal/progressives truly believe they are pulling the church into a new and enlightened reality. There is absolutely no common ground for unity!

  2. For Progressives the unforgivable sin is insincerity. The central principle by which Liberals judge ideas is not their truthfulness but the sincerity of the person espousing them. In the Liberal world there is no such thing as being sincerely mistaken as sincerity makes all things right. Indeed Conservatives are wrong because their beliefs are insincere animated as they are by fear, bigotry, and hatred.

    Conservatives are the “untermenchens” of the 21st century. Because we are not sincere we have no sacred worth that would compel a progressive to honor their vows to us. Progressives will leave because they are convinced that their leaving will doom Conservatives, their version of a “Final Solution”.

  3. The analogy to ending marriages is a pretty good one. Splitting up the church is kind of like splitting up a marriage, except the kids have to choose one parent over another. But other than that, the metaphor works.
    But it also assumes that people who have differences have to get divorced. Can people who disagree on things learn to live with that disagreement? They sure can. And people who take marriage vows, and take them seriously, are going to stick with them through thick and thin. Sometimes, staying together is just a matter of one of the partners refusing to quit trying.
    We have two examples on the grand stage right now, so I’ll use them. Hillary Clinton has as good a set of reasons to divorce her husband as any woman ever had. Not only is he a serial philanderer, but then she had to live through the most public set of lies ever told about it. But she stuck to her vows – refused to quit – and stayed married. Many of us will question her judgement, but nobody should question her commitment.
    Donald Trump, on the other hand, treats wives like properties. If there’s a better deal available, he takes it. He’s on number three now, and may be nearing the end of his life of infidelity. But when he took those same vows three times, was he fooling anyone?
    In my book, sticking with your sworn vows, even through very difficult times, is the better approach. How, exactly, will any part of the church be improved when we all think alike? Is there anything new there, except that we’ll be a lot smaller?

    Each of us, at one time or another, took a vow “To be loyal to Christ through The United Methodist Church and do all in their power to strengthen its ministries;” You’ll never convince me there’s a good time to break that vow.

    1. That is an interesting take from one who has supported pastors and bishops breaking their vows. It’s also neat how you get to work your political leanings into something that has nothing to do with politics. Even Jesus allowed for divorce on the grounds of adultery. What else can it be called when you forsake the one you are married to (on this case the church) for a different belief?

      1. My political leanings? Do you think I’m really an HRC supporter? You should pay closer attention.
        I used the example of the two candidates because they’re on display right now and everybody will understand their situation. But the same can be said for many other, anonymous, people in America. Take the names off and use the examples, and they’re still relevant to the question at hand.

        And no, I don’t support pastors and bishops who break their vows. Ultimately, as I have stated many, many times, they need to submit to the discipline of the UMC. If they refuse to do that, they should be removed from the rolls of the UMC.

        “Will you be loyal to The United Methodist Church,
        accepting its order, liturgy, doctrine, and discipline,
        defending it against all doctrines contrary to God’s Holy Word,
        and committing yourself to be accountable with those serving with you,
        and to the bishop and those who are appointed to supervise your ministry?

        I will, with the help of God.”

  4. Scott, thank you very much for your effort of writing this blog entry. You seem to presume that there are only two opposite positions in the UMC – like pure black and pure white. In fact we have a spectrum with all scales of gray in our Church. There is only a relatively small percentage of people on both extremes. So why shall the big majority separate?
    Marriage and divorce is, at least in our culture, a matter of exactly two persons – in your image: two clear opposite positions. I think the image of divorce does not at all work for the UMC. We are a worldwide organization of more than 12 million people in the US, in Africa, in Asia, and in Europe. There are deep differences within our Church at least when you consider the extreme positions. But there are a lot of positions in between. We should not so much stick to the extreme positions (pure white and pure black) but more to the center (middle gray).

    1. I will talk about that (the grey areas, the middle, etc) more when I get to the third of this series about middle ways and why they do not work. I will give a few brief comments here though in the form of a couple of questions that hopefully you will be inclined to answer.
      The first is what is the middle point (grey area if you will) between an action is sinful and it is not?
      What is the middle point between marriage is one man and one woman, or it is not?
      What is the middle point between following your vows or breaking them?
      What is the middle point between submission to church authority and rebellion?
      I am not asking to be snarky mind you, I am asking to see if you have answers that I do not.

      1. Thank you, Scott, for your reply.
        I am convinced that there are many United Methodists who want to remain in unity. Asking them questions which can only be answered with “black” or “white” brings us to nowhere except disunity and separation.
        What we urgently need in our Church is trust in each other. Trust cannot be derived from differences but from common good experiences and from a common ground. Why seeking the differences instead of the common ground?

        How do we come to our understandings of a particular theological term?
        How do we read and understand the Bible? And why do we this in our particular ways?
        How do we determine what is ethical behavior in a Christian sense?

        These questions might be difficult to answer and it might take some time and need some efforts to answer them. Perhaps we need the support of experts (theologians) – we have a lot of them in our Church. But these questions, I am convinced, are more appropiate to lead us as a Church to a common ground.
        I admit that there will perhaps be United Methodists on both sides of the spectrum with which the big majority of our Church will not come to a common ground. But the percentage of these people will hopefully be relatively small.
        It is also our questions which can lead us to either disunity or unity.

        1. I commend you for the importance you place on middle way questions. I am also a great compromiser and accommodator. But I believe those questions only have value after answering the “black and white, yes or no” questions. If we are traveling and I want to stop for burgers and you want fried chicken then we can come to an agreement or a third way. But if I am insistent on going to the beach and you the mountains then it is useless to discuss where we will have lunch. In worship, we may use an electric guitar, banjo, or pipe organ…or perhaps combine them in some really different way. But if we are not in agreement on who we worship then those middle way questions are useless. A young couple may choose from a variety of choices in the wedding ceremony and even be somewhat invengtive, but if we are not in agreement on what marriage is then there is no point in discussing them because it is not going to happen. Accommodation–openness to middle ways–is only an important quality in those who are traveling together. Yes or no questions must come first.

          1. If you want to figure out a disagreement or agreement, yes or no questions may come first. I agree. But I am aware that even a yes or no does not necessarily mean that there is disagreemant or agreement. From my viewpoint the work only could start with such questions. But do the parties use the same language in the same or in a different meaning? To what extent do the meanings differ? Then the parties have to work on this kind of questions if they are still ready to do that. In many cases the parties will not be ready for a further discourse, for either they are too disappointed or too happy. This is one reason why I suggest to start with questions clarifying things before asking the yes or no questions.

            Another reason for starting with questions not leading to a yes or no answer is that these questions force into two groups: a yes group and a no group. That is why this kind of questions quickly lead to disunity. But things are not so easy in our big Church. From my viewpoint the yes or no questions are too easy and too early for what is at stake. We are more than 12 million professing members with a very diverse cultural and theological background in the UMC. This is not at all a question of a couple whether to go to the mountains or to the sea. This example question would be oversimplified if applied to the issues of a big international organization in which the members consider themselves – and hopefully also each other – as children of God and related to Christ.

        2. Thank you for answering. A lot of this little back and forth we have (which I do not see as bad) is demonstrating what I was trying to get at though. What is unity for example. I imagine that while we all want it, many of us might struggle for a definition to it, and of those who had definition, there would be disagreement. As I tried to get to above, we are not even starting form the same point most of the time.
          Most of the questions that you mentioned above have already been answered, several times in several ways. Answering them again is not going to help. By and large, those who differ in the opinions of the church’s teaching on the matter at hand approach scripture very differently. Most of the traditionalists (for identification) are approaching scripture as authoritative and as the primary source as our BoD outlines. Most of the progressives and many moderates (for identification) are approaching scripture as a source, but not the primary source and in some cases dismissing large patches of scripture all together. We can not even look to our Articles of Religion as a basic starting point, because we are not united there either. Without a common starting point theologically, we can not get to the same places. We can not look to the teachings and rules of the church because people are in open rebellion to them as well. Again, no common starting point.
          The questions you posed are good, but they have already been answered in our standards of faith and in places like our theological task. I can tell you how the church teaches t interpret scripture. I can tell you how the church has come to an understanding of a particular theological term, etc. Again, no common starting point. While I would agree that those above questions are important and matter a great deal, the larger one should be at what point are you in so much disagreement with the church, how it interprets scripture and it’s basic beliefs, that there can not be compromise? When did we elevate the opinions of an individual above the teachings of the church? If we start to compromise on the questions that you ask above, that is what we are doing. That is not so much compromise as fundamentally changing the church.
          I did not so much ask yes and no questions as asking for what the middle ground is. (“What is the middle point between marriage is one man and one woman, or it is not?
          What is the middle point between following your vows or breaking them?
          What is the middle point between submission to church authority and rebellion”)
          I asked for the middle points between just a few things, and no one yet has been able to answer them. If we are looking for this (I believe mythical) “middle ground” we should have some idea of what it looks like. We, and apparently no one else either, do not.

          1. Thank you again, Scott, for having taken time to respond.

            Currently the Methodist Church in Britain has its annual conference which is its highest governing body like our General Conference. I watch this conference via internet. What I have not known until last night is that there is a paper of the Marriage and Relationships Task Group. I have skimmed the paper last night thinking of our discussion here. It has come not to my surprise that the task group asks a lot of questions. Also the districts, local churches and the youths have been asked for conversation. A lot of comments of the people are included in the paper. The comments are very diverse.The official positions and developments on human sexuality and relationships of ecumenical partners are included in the paper.

            Although the Methodist Church in Britain is much smaller than the UMC and limited largely to one country (United Kingdom), the paper is very interesting. Here is a link to it:

            My observation is that in the UMC we had a lot of unsound quarreling about this issue in General Conferences and beyond. But we had few fruitful discussions – at least not enough. So the Methodist Church in Britain could become an example how to deal with this difficult issue. Enjoy the reading.

  5. Reinhold, I am not sure if you are aware or not, but we have had several task forces on human sexuality over the years. We have attempted the same thing. Thank you for the link, I will look at it more in depth when I have the time and am sure I will find it interesting. It should be noted that the Methodist church in England even has a completely different take (so I have been told) on what the standards of faith mean for example. Having skipped ahead to the end, it seems that in regards to sexuality they said decided that they should simply talk more. We have been “talking” for over 40 years. Many discussions have occurred privately, in task forces, in open circle type groups, etc. At some point you actually have to make a decision that deals with the continued disobedience that we are seeing.

  6. Re Reinhold’s comments: What you do not reference is where the United Methodist Church in
    America is truly coming unwound: at the level of the pew. The United Methodist Church in America has been losing individuals at a consistent rate for nearly 50 years; 100,000 in 2014. I was not only baptized into the Methodist/United Methodist Church I was born into it; I never chose it, it was simply a huge part of the life I received. As an adult I supported my local UMC to the best of my ability for 20 years. My relationship with the church is now strained because as much as I listened for it, the local UMC could not give me what I needed and wanted most, a clear understanding of who God is and who I am and how God impacts my life. When my local church started chasing down a rabbit trail of relevancy it became clear that all they had to offer was a different version of how to “do church”–something that I was already an expert at. That is when I did something I never anticipated doing–I distanced myself from all things church, went on a quest and was finally introduced to a God worth worshiping. It is all fine and good to talk about the UMC as a “big picture”; but when push comes to shove, it is the individual in the pew who has the final say and I am stunned at the level of messiness and dysfunctionality that is currently present in The United Methodist Church; why it does not even trust its own processes! Legislation has worked very well when it comes to the sexuality question; the problem it those who refuse to abide by it. I have delved into Wesley and early Methodism enough to know that this is not true Methodism. Early Methodism came into existence because of a specific message and method that connected individuals to God and then to each other in life transforming relationships that enabled individuals to live a life centered in God 24/7 regardless of their circumstances or their backgrounds. From my perspective, what I see happening is the complete and absolute failure of trying to make Methodism into something it was never intended to be: a morass of theological diversity and other understandings that, as I have experienced it, can prove to be toxic to the person sitting in the pew. Methodism came into existence because Wesley wanted the rank and file person to understand what Christianity is about; that was Priority #1 from which he never ever wavered. Wesley predicted that Methodism would become the form of religion without the power; as far as I am concerned, this mess that has the audacity to call itself United Methodist has taken Wesley’s prediction to a whole new level!

    1. Nothing to do with the SSM issue. But your words about the history of UMC struck me in one respect. It seems that it’s “connectivity” worked well, when the people were predominately homogeneous, from 50 to 100 years ago. White, European, into the parliamentary procedures; in reality, working and connecting in small groups with mostly similar cultures. Perhaps, in our current times, we are getting too much of a good thing in “connectivity”. Which brings true “diversity” in people and culture, which, in reality, is the root of the current problem.

      From a historical church point of view, I wonder what would have happened if Paul tried to introduce diversity into a single, unified, church (over an ancient internet, real-time video-streaming system). Connecting a Jewish-Christian synagogue in Judah, with a Gentile-Christian Church in Rome, in their General Conference, in 65 AD? Paul would have been excommunicated. Maybe there is an advantage to be separated in time and space, in connections, when there is too much diversity.

      Conclusion: UMC connections methodology does not work very well when there is too much diversity. Which occurs in our “interconnected” world. Schism proposals are just an attempt at reducing the “connectivity” of too much diversity. Which will obviously work, BTW!

      1. You are probably onto something, though I don’t think it is culturally based so much as it is belief based. Traditionalists generally agree on key things such as approaches to scripture, the authority of church and scripture, etc. while progressives also agree on those things in an often drastically different manner.

  7. I agree it is time for a break up of the church. Conservatives in the Western Jurisdiction have no voice. Pastors are tired or afraid of losing their church if they speak out against the resolutions of non-conformity such as the one Cal Pac passed last year. Over the past four years it has become clear that conservatives are not very welcome in the more liberal conferences out west.

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