How long would the shine last on a new conservative Methodist denomination?

Stripped image of John Wesley
I, uh, thought I said no schism.

I confess —even with some of my positions, I am drawn to an idea of an conservative Methodist denomination, one where the Creeds are confessed, as are our catechisms, and the Gospel is preached — but would a new conservative denomination last?

My short answer is, simply, no. Yes, it will have the money, the people, and the locations, but like all Protestant denominations formed by conservatives separating from liberals, a conservative Methodist denomination would, within a generation or two, face the same ideological hurdles (the choose your own identity game) the UMC faces now.

[tweetthis]Would a new conservative #UMC denomination last? My short answer is, simply, no.[/tweetthis]

Allow me to give you two examples. The Anglican Church in North America — which, by the way, is not in communion with Canterbury — split from the Episcopal Church in 2009 after a long fight with liberals. That fight ranged from changing the language of the Book of Common Prayer to women pastors and bishops to finally non-celibate gay pastors. It did not happen overnight but was a long process.

This is the American church for Anglicans who wanted steadfast doctrine, the end to postmodernism in the Church, and the ability to know that the pastor was not having to cross his fingers when saying the Creed. It is, at the moment, wavering, inching towards schism. As one blogger said, the ACNA — rather than a conservative movement within the Episcopal Church — has become just another denomination.

The Presbyterian Church in America has a history that may be familiar to some. It started as a renewal movement within a larger Presbyterian denomination that had split off before the War Between the States. The official separation began when the PSUC merged with another body to become the PCUSA (where it actually began). The renewal group was determined to move the PSUS back to the Reformed heritage. When it failed, it left — that was 1973.

The PCA is itself facing schism. While the controversies are not as pronounced as they were in the EC/ACNA schism or likely to be in a UMC schism, they are starting along the same lines — liberal v. conservative. See here, here, here, and here. There is even talk of a radical, reactionary, right-wing group working undercover to takeover and then promote the schism. All of this began not last year, but in the mid-80’s, barely a decade after the formation of the PCA.

When the talk of a militant march on General Conference — with the aim of forcible conversion, excommunication of conservatives, and the scorched-earth conquering of the United Methodist Church by groups like RMN, conservatives are starting to grow weary of this fight. Nevermind that this is the last year — if the language of the Book of Discipline holds — they will have to fight like this. Nevermind that the UMC is not demographically like the other denominations. Rather, like many, they are simply ready to move on and go and preach the Gospel — leaving RMN to squander what remains of the UMC — and the remains would be nothing.

[tweetthis]Irony — those who oppose the “politics” of Nicea regularly employ terrorist tactics #dreamumc[/tweetthis]

If the PCA and the ACNA are any examples, a confessing or conservative UMC would not last long. Yes, it would have the money, the land, and an internal cohesion — as well as the global reach; however, unless it is willing to give up the polity it has now, a (C)UMC could not exist more than a generation — or two — as a conservative institution.

Two things would eventually doom the conservative Methodist denomination. While initially it would have internal cohesion (unified against liberals and progressives), eventually it would have to consider such issues as inerrancy or inspiration and other holdovers of a deeper conservatism than many believe is out there. Second, the polity would kill it.

Any polity designed upon the American system where we vote — either in Annual Conferences or on the republican system (we vote for delegates that supposedly vote for us at General Conference) — will continue to be political and in a few short years, the conservative Methodist denomination will once again face an identity crisis. Simply put, a (C)UMC would be an eventual reissuing of the UMC, even if homosexuality is not then the issue.

[tweetthis]If the PCA and the ACNA are any examples, a conservative #UMC would not last long.[/tweetthis]

The conservative Presbyterians started off well while still PCUS. They started a seminary. This has helped, but it did nothing to prevent the separation. Indeed, the seeds of separation — radicalism and reactionism, or essentially, the American discourse inserted into a sectarian body  — are planted in the seminaries. That is the lesson the Southern Baptists learned.

Rather than inching towards schism, conservatives in the Southern Baptist Convention — facing the same progressive causes conservatives face today — began by taking over the seminaries. Further, they starting moving to take leadership posts. Granted, they could elect their leaders every few years — instead, we are often stuck with ineffectual bishops who refuse to exercise their authority. But, in the end, the resurgence was a planned and well executed operation aimed at the power-making centers of the SBC — boards, commissions, and seminaries. They did not look for schism, but for the very long road that lead to the conservative takeover.

And they are twice the membership of the United Methodist Church — even though they are now starting to experience decline.

When conservatives leave, they die. They face the same problems in a generation or so because they never actually engaged the problem that caused the separation. When progressives leave, they die too. But, when conservatives stay and fight…they win.

The issues we have are not directly related to inclusion. Rather, they are oftentimes related to different identities. Surveying across the board, I have to wonder how many of our talking heads and their followers know what it means to be a Wesleyan (or a Christian, for that matter). What do our seminaries teach in that regards? Is there a solid Wesleyan formation to go with a solid Christian formation? I do not think seminaries are the places to save souls (so to speak) but they should provide formation for the Christian and at Wesleyan seminaries, for Wesleyans. Then we would understand the different between “justice” and δικαιοσύνη. We could understand the difference between activist and μαθητής.

And we would understand the difference between real leadership offered by real Wesleyans and, well, σκύβαλον.

For those looking at a brand new shiny conservative Methodist denomination — it won’t stay that way for long. It is better to rebuild what you have than to throw away time and money on something that will simply disappear by tomorrow.

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57 Replies to “How long would the shine last on a new conservative Methodist denomination?”

  1. Well, since gay children will continue to be born to “conservative” United Methodists, the issue of LGBT inclusion would not go away either. Your picture of RMN is unrecognizable to me and certainly NOT representative of me or of such moderate voices as Adam Hamilton and Mike Slaughter.

        1. RMN, and Love Prevails (I am not certain about MFSA) have all said that any compromise solution such as the live and let live plans would only be seen as them as stepping stones. While some conservatives have said that no, it would not work, many moderates have been turned off to the idea of any sort of compromise because of the tactics and statements by RMN, Love Prevails, etc. Even among most moderates, you will not find a lot of support for anything until the BoD is upheld and the process for change that is in place is respected.

      1. Both Hamilton and Slaughter might as well be RMN. They are what we in the South call a mugwump. Their mug on one side and their wump (rump) on the other. Or in other words they speak out of both sides of their mouths.

  2. Much like the old communists revolutionaries, conservative Christians tend to be much better at takeovers than at governance.

  3. I don’t know dude…
    When Phineas Bressee left the ME Church in the late 1800’s sighting that the church had lost it’s focus on sanctification and holiness and then formed the later known Church of the Nazarene we see a group there who are still trucking along strong today.The focus matters with what social issues we feel are important and must be dealt with “right now”. The homosexuality issue has never reached the floor in either the CotN or the Wesleyan Church, for that matter. Conservatism or liberalism only thrive depending on what we allow to come in the door as we discourse about the matters in the world around us. If liberal groups want to stay liberal, they keep that conservative talk out. And vise versa.

    On this matter I would agree with you. UMers who have been exposed to the moderate thinking inbetween both worlds of thought would have a hard time making anything moderately conservative or moderately liberal float for very long. It would take people pushing beyond the middle and going headlong into either end of the proverbial spectrum to make their views last and stay. The SBC is now struggling because it has allowed for the speech and teach of liberal thought to creep into their once cemented conservative structure. Any group will begin to struggle once they open the door to thoughts that are foreign to the mainstay of their group.

      1. There was not a “schism” involving the Nazarenes, as those who were pushing for “holiness” took no property with them. Those who thought the ME Church (and ME South Church) were insufficiently focused on “holiness” just left. There are significant portions of the Nazarene church NOW that are extremely suspicious of their own intellectuals, as evidenced by their treatment of Thomas Oord.

      2. The Southern Baptist split wasn’t a schism. It was a denominational disaster driven, in large measure, by jealousy coinciding with opportunity.

          1. I never said anyone said the Southern Baptist split was a schism. The point was, and still is for that matter, the conservative power grab was an unmitigated disaster for Southern Baptists.

            At the same time, driven largely by jealousy and decades in the making, it was perhaps inevitable.

          2. While the following is probably not a recipe for denominational success, the Southern Baptist Convention has managed to find itself with:

            1) Aging membership

            2) Failure to convert new members

            3) Loosing current members

            4) Allowing constituent churches to drop the poisonous “Baptist” brand label

            5) Managing to be on the losing side of virtually every social issue:

            — Abortion

            — Alcohol

            — Child abuse (aka beating the devil out of children)

            — Evolution (pro-creationism)

            — Gambling

            — Homosexuality

            — Segregation (including the Ku Klux Klan)

            — Slavery (origins of the Southern Baptist Convention)

            — Tobacco

            — War (backing unwinnable wars)

            — Women’s rights

            In sum, while the Southern Baptist Convention may be biblical correct, it is increasingly irrelevant. That can prove deadly even without sin.

    1. When conservatives took over the Southern Baptist Convention in 1979, the denomination could claim six percent of the United States population. Today, 36 years later, it’s down to about five percent of an predominantly older demographic set.

      Meanwhile, the fact remains that, despite attempts by conservatives to rewrite denominational (as well as American) history, and unlike previous generations, the Southern Baptist Convention is no longer able to convince large numbers of youth that its doctrines offer the path to eternal salvation.

      At some point, conservatives are going to have to man-up, not something they’re used to doing, and assume some responsibility for the denominational decline. Otherwise, while conservatives may continue to blame moderates, the fact remains that if this continues, history will eventually close the doors on the Southern Baptist Convention.

  4. Joel, the story about the SBC is only partially correct. The conservatives did start to stay and fight, but it this case it was moderates and liberals who grew tired and left. The liberals left in the late 80s and formed the Alliance of Baptists and the moderates began leaving in the early 90s and became the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. While I know the SBC has had some decline, I’m not aware how well the Alliance and CBF are doing, though I can saw the Alliance is very small.

    The interesting thing is that at least in my view (and I’m not a conservative) the SBC kept on going pretty well without the liberals and moderates and is only now dealing with decline. That’s not to say I endorese it, but I’ve noticed that when conservatives leave mainline denominations like the Presbyterians, the denomination is the poorer, at least from my experience.

    1. Dennis, moral psychology seems to explain why “when conservatives leave mainline denominations… the denomination is poorer…” In addition to caring about such universal moral values as fairness, equality, compassion, and autonomy, conservatives also value obedience, sacrifice, solidarity, and purity. Unlike liberals who are painting a complex world with just a few hues of blue, conservatives paint with a fuller spectrum of colors on the palette, and the richer, more life-like painting that result are valuable in the living of a real life.

      Presently, Christians with a liberal temperament not only struggle to make sense of the world with too few hues, but desperately want to be accepted by an American public mind with even fewer of them. That mind has no moral values that cannot be tracked to melodramatic narratives of the Second World War and the Civil Rights Movement. In its perspective, nothing is moral until it fits the genre plotlines of either the Defeat of Cruelty or the Vindication of Equality. But of course real life has never been that simple, and so liberal Christians trying to accommodate that two-valued mind are not in practice able to say much at all about most things that matter in life. Because liberals of my grandfather’s day were not so lost, I am inclined to think that their present-day fecklessness reflects a phase in American history rather than the temperament as such.

      Besides, when conservative denominations can retain their liberal members, the latter do them a world of good. As natural explorers thirsty for new experience, they do offset the dangers of isolation to which a conservative taste for the familiar is vulnerable. (Kindly note that Babel was a conservative idea; the first liberals rejoiced when God mandated multiculturalism 😉 The liberal distaste for shenanigans, inequality, heartlessness, and cooptation challenges authoritarian excesses that conservatives too easily tolerate even when they see them. (Liberals with power are also prone to authoritarian excesses, of course, but these tend to arise from a blindness to the moral dimensions of obedience, sacrifice, solidarity, and purity.) Christians so inordinately fond of obedience, etc that they disvalue fairness, etc need an antidote, and their liberal brothers and sisters are the ones who can bring it. The challenge today seems to be getting the latter to see their fuddy-duddy old churches as the Body of Christ in which they should seek the mind of Christ.

    2. Wow, I am not sure you understand what it means to be a liberal. We have the rainbow….and not just a White screen on a Black background. We see all colors, hues, tints, shades, and the combination thereof. What advancements in human rights and equality have conservatives advocated? Oh, I forgot how hard they fought for women rights. I suppose they missed the photo-op at Selma. Jesus was such a conservative…..I suppose that is why Caiaphas was such an admirer. Your grandfather’s liberal would be ecstatic that more women are in pulpits, gays at treated like children of God, and poor people are more likely to have health insurance.

      1. For the fun of it– I mean that– watch Jonathan Haidt’s hilarious but substantive TED talk on the difference between liberals and conservatives. His friendly liberal bias only helps him communicate his important findings. Anyone who spends much time trying to make peace in groups polarized left/right should have this at her/his fingertips.

    3. The Southern Baptist Convention split was a case of insiders (progressives) versus outsiders (conservatives). Only the conservatives weren’t conservative. They were fundamentalists. And the progressives were only liberal in comparison to the fundamentalists.

      The split actually began when more educated Baptists bought into evolution. At the forefront were men like William “Doctor Billy” Poteat. To fundamentalists like Frank Norris, Poteat was the devil incarnate.

      Driven largely by jealousy, the fundamentalists believed for most of the early 20th century that modernists had deprived them of their divine right to rule.

      Published shortly after the fundamentalists began their fight for the soul of the Convention, Russell Brantley’s The Education of Jonathan Beam (New York, Macmillan, 1962) offers some insight into the antics of the fundamentalist preacher set as the set out to spy on the supposedly liberal professors at a certain not totally fictitious Baptist college.

      Undergraduates studies were just the tip of the theological iceberg. The fundamentalists real gripe was the the godless seminaries! Antagonism boiled over a decade later in a Convention verbal food fight. Then, two decades after it began, the fundamentalists coup was accomplished.

      Collectively the victorious fundamentalists believed themselves to be God’s man with God’s plan. It hasn’t quire worked out that way. Whereas many turn of the 20th century fundamentalists left to start independent churches. A century later, progressives packed their theological bags and began a fledgling denomination.

  5. Governing a church by voting and popular opinion will inevitably lead to a church that conforms more to the culture than to scripture. All of the American-style churches are in decline, and have compromised the truth of the Gospel. Our democratic polities don’t work. Power struggles and party spirit reign in this context.

    We could learn much from the polity of various orthodox churches—they are obviously sustainable. Perhaps God could help us tweek their administrative structure to create a NEW form of church government to suit Wesleyan Christianity. I know that I’m a dreamer…but I have some ideas that I think would be worth trying. No one seems to be asking me, however. What does a retired preacher know?

      1. I would like to see us choose bishops differently. We should cast lots instead of electing them. A candidate could be chosen from EACH annual conference around the GLOBE, and then the needed number of bishops should be chosen BY LOT. (This is very Wesleyan AND Biblical). Jurisdictions should be completely eliminated. Bishops should be available for appointment anywhere in the world.

        I would also like to see a lead bishop chosen by lot. Candidates for this position would be bishops with experience as a bishop. Candidates should be willing to serve, and identified by the COB as worthy leaders. Responsibilities would include appointing bishops and being a spokesperson/leader for the denomination.The prayerfully chosen lead bishop should be empowered to hold bishops accountable to the Book of Discipline. The term of the lead bishop would be limited.

        John Wesley is known to have made some important decisions b prayerfully casting lots. The Coptic church casts lots to choose its pope today. During Wesley’s time, HE served as a strong central authority in the church–much like a “lead bishop”. We desperately need such a central authority in today’s church. Casting lots among qualifeid candidates would minimize party spirit and lessen the political divisions in the church.

        1. Brilliant, Holly. I’m glad I asked.

          Generally, I find that church polities that resemble our civil polity too closely are sacrilegiously drawing our civil politics into the church. We need something else, and your ideas address that squarely. Lots preempt campaigning. Archbishops, if I may call them that in this context, enable bishops and pastors to be more than the creatures of administrative synods. Global communion with translatable bishops ensures that national politics is not the inevitable frame of reference on controversial questions anywhere. I like it.

          Is there a something that I might read on Wesley and lots?

          1. I suggest you google “John Wesley casting lots”…There are numerous references to this practice in Wesley’s journals and letters. I don’t know of a book. Wikipedia has an article on casting lots that is worth reading.

          1. I am too familiar with some of the abuses I see in central conference leadership. I have some pastor/friends in Kenya who are bearing with some serious issues related to their bishop (who has been accused of misusing funds). This is one reason I like the idea of NOT allowing bishops to serve in their home conference, and for making appointments of bishops GLOBAL rather than regional.

  6. A gentle correction that ultimately supports your point: the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) is stranger and more interesting than a mere breakaway from The Episcopal Church (TEC) and the Anglican Church of Canada (ACC). It is an episcopal umbrella over devotees of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, Reformed Episcopalians who left The Episcopal Church in the early C19 over baptismal regeneration, Anglo-Catholics who left TEC and ACC more recently over the ordination of women, and the church plants in America of African bishops who oppose TEC on sexual ethics. ACNA also has ties to conservative Lutherans who left ELCA over liberalism generally and homosexuality specifically. Now all of these groups are frenemies of TEC and ACC, yes, but since they have corporate cultures of their own, ACNA is probably best seen as an unusually complicated merger-in-progress among tiny ‘national’ denominations that share some tradition and polity, a dissident, conservative ethos, a seminary or two, and a huge amount of global good will. ACNA will struggle for a long time, but thanks to a global commiment to an alternative to TEC and ACC, merger partners can come and go without the umbrella itself being seen as less legitimate or enduring.

    In relation to your main point, this example seems to pose three questions–

    (1) Is merger with sibling churches a third alternative alongside a start-up or a fight? If Reformed Anglicans can break bread with Anglo-Catholics and Lutherans, what really keeps Methodists from doing the same with others in at least the Wesleyan tradition?

    (2) Is alliance with likeminded churches in the global south a better basis for corporate identity than American denominationalism? Although not canonically in communion with them, ACNA has had good relations with Canterbury and Rome. But the truly strategic alliances are with likeminded Anglican churches in the global south. Concretely, African bishops enabled ACNA to “reset” its Anglicanism to something nearer global norms of canon law, liturgy, doctrine, and episcopal oversight. More abstractly, the warm embrace of ACNA in the global south changes the dynamic from one of breaking away from TEC and ACC to one of joining something that is alive and not dead– the vibrant southern Christendom of the C21. Would this work for Methodists as well?

    (3) On the ground, is stronger regional affiliation a more realistic objective than replacing national denominations? ACNA’s complicated diocesan dynamics are a reminder that no ‘national’ denomination can speak to the heart in all twelve or so regions of the United States. Where faith must be contextualized in daily life, an Anglican Calvinist in Louisville may more easily understand an Anglican Catholic in Nashville than his snarky neo-Reformed friend in Manhattan. Yet overambitious ‘nationalism’ keeps denominations speaking a language of nowhere-in-particular, weakening the tacit, corporate heart-knowledge that best engages changing life circumstances. This, along with the ambiguity of synodical governance, is why those who break away from ‘liberal’ churches in one generation may find themselves powerless to avoid similar controversy in the next. Would identifying, organizing, and governing some traditionalist Methodist heartlands for a century or more be more prudent than organizing a grand simulacrum of the UMC?

    All of this suggests that the OP is right in suggesting that there are alternatives to the old C19 approach of starting a shiny new denomination that works to further divide every town in America with a new competitor.

  7. I guess I should have extrapolated on my point…
    No, the Nazarene movement was not a schism. A new conservative movement out of the UMC would only work if it was done like that Nazarene movement began.

        1. Thank you so much for remembering my query. I am preparing to review the Wesleyan tradition in theology. For that purpose, prior reading on the (wo)men and movements will be very helpful. This looks like a helpful starting point.

  8. I appreciate very much your calling out the fantasy of a breakaway conservative denomination being formed out of the current UMC. Whether by splitting off or by kicking out liberals and other gay-affirming members, such a gambit predicated on disagreements over sexuality would indeed fail as you rightly point out. Thanks for that. Personally, I feel the conservative wing of the UMC is not just wrong on the LGBTQ-related issues, but it is also shooting itself in the foot. If one were keeping track of “who’s views were gaining ground” (I mean theologically apart from homosexuality), I’d say that evangelicals have gotten the better of progressives in recent decades. So evangelical leaders’ rigidity on same-sex marriage is really an unforced error. Your points about schism leading to more schism within breakaway sects is well made. I’d just add that the American mission field is now very different for the UMC in 2016 (vs. 1990s or 1970s) with most people and young people overwhelming supporting same sex marriage today. No matter what other theological issues are disputed, a split at this point, will be rightly remembered as “mostly about gay rights/discrimination.” Just like the Civil War is remembered as being about slavery rather that states rights.

    I do have one bone to pick in that your RMN reference is unrecognizable me too. No surprise coming as that link does from the IRD blog. It is pure σκύβαλον. RMN is not interested in “forcible conversion, excommunication of conservatives, and the scorched-earth conquering” [quotes from your post], but merely it works for the full inclusion of LGBTQ persons in the life of the church as members, married couples and — when called by God — clergy. While I know you dislike RMN’s Biblical Obedience / Altar-for-All campaign, you shouldn’t confuse it with Love Prevail’s separate actions nor mischaracterize RMN’s intent. (I don’t say this to criticize any member of the movement for LGBTQ inclusion, and I understand why some are angrier or more confrontational than me, but rather, to say that the movement is not monolithic). I get that you see ecclessial disobedience as an affront to covenant and clergy vows, but I wish you’d at least acknowledge that BoD is inconsistent and that clergy who are officiating SSM feel their multiple vows are in conflict and this way of responding is the more faithful approach to fulfilling them overall.

    For the record, I led an overflowingly popular workshop at the San Antonio gathering called “Building Bridges with Moderates and Evangelicals” and focused on finding common ground and mutual understanding. Persuasion is a goal, but so too is co-existance and non-coercion with respect to forcing no pastor to do or not do certain marriages. The movement for LGBTQ equality has UMC adherents across the ideological/theological spectrum and a great many folks who just want us tall to get along and let each other do good ministry together within Wesley’s tradition. Meaningful Unity =/= 100% Uniformity.


    1. Dave,

      You know I like you — and I respect the work you do. So if you want me to believe that RMN is different than LP, have them call out LP and say they will not march with LP, etc…

      The BoD is inconsistent in some ways, sure, but this doesn’t remove the vows which are not.

      1. Yes, Joel, and you know I like you too. And I learn from you as well.

        Our Baptismal Vows call us to resist evil in all its forms. Many of us on the affirming side see discrimination against gay people as evil. Let me rush to emphasize I don’t think those who disagree with me (due to traditional views they’ve been taught) are evil. But we see it that way based on deep scriptural study and teaching influence of the Holy Spirit. So indeed there are conflicting vows. My own pastor always highlights also the call she feels from God on her life and her vocational to minister to all.

        I get and respect that some who affirm SSM and yet disagree with the ecclesial disobedience we call Biblical Obedience (our Altar for All campaign). I can see how you land there. I would hope for similar understanding of my position. We are at a critical juncture in the UMC. I wish those who both affirm SSM and object to RMN’s strategy focus more on the moral point of agreement and work harder to change the BoD. I would also hope those folks might help bridge divide by showing how there is more than one biblically sound way to affirm SSM including respectable evangelical cases consistent with a high view of scriptural authority.

        As for “calling each other out,” that’s just not something organizations in coalitions do. So RMN won’t be doing that. Please get back to me when Confessing Movement, Good News or IRD calls out each other for their excesses. Besides that reality of coalition work, I’ll say something else about myself and LP. We sometimes disagree about strategy or tactics or tone, and we can have respectful disagreement within the broader movement. You can judge us individually by our individual actions. But I appreciate — and I get frustrated when others don’t even acknowledge — the very deep pain that institutional church has inflicted on numerous visible members of LP, and the mocking they endure from some critics which gets very personal and even unChristian. As the father of a queer daughter, and seeing the great pain and danger her friends have experienced, I’m not going to pile on the public shaming directed at LP. Just not going to happen, and I hope you can respect where I’m coming from.

          1. Joel — I agree with you that keeping our vows is important. Where we differ is in how to handle the situation when vows are in conflict. And apparently we disagree over whether such conflict exists for many pastors. But if we are going to criticize clergy for what we see as “breaking vows,” we should at least strive to understand how they understand their own dilemma, and we should objectively acknowledge their view even as we subjectively disagree with it. So much of the commentary is see on this subject treats Altar-for-All clergy like it were some “open and shut case” of vow-breaking, and I feel that approach is a disservice to the accused parties and to the readers. I see those same situations as courageous cases of vow-keeping.

        1. Dave,
          I don’t know you, so I am not sure I am interpreting your comment properly. Can you help me understand how you can say that “discrimination against gay people is evil” by which you seem to mean not allowing SSM or ordination, and can, at the same time say that those who disagree with you (and presumably those who practice said discrimination) are NOT evil?

          1. Martha – Thanks for the question. That is a tough one which I’ve thought about and prayed about a lot. We are all sinners, but we are called to address our own sins rather than to call out the sins of others. We all have bits of good and evil in us. It seems appropriate for me to name and judge the sin practiced by the institution (UMC) to which I am pledged. All of us bear responsibility for our part in our institution’s discrimination against gay folk. But I do not feel compelled to label or judge individual believers in the same way when they disagree with me. I feel a sense of urgency and responsibility to remedy the institution. But I feel like individuals will be convicted or judged on God’s timeline. I appreciate the opportunity to witness to them and dialog over the issue, but I am not willing to end each conversation with a condemnation. Also, like 95% of those in my age bracket who now affirm same-sex marriage, I can remember a time when my view of this issue was different. I place a high value on unity within the Body of Christ even as we are in the midst of sharp disagreement over this issue. We are called to be one body. And I have found my spiritual life enriched by teachers from all points of the theological spectrum, and I’ve seen the same play out in the local congregation where I am a lay leader.

    2. Both “wings” of the church are not good at reigning in their extremists, because both wings are more interesting in winning than in filtering their advocacy through the lens of Christian charity, ecclesial decorum, or the fruits of the Spirit.

  9. Wow, Joel, all the new bells and whistles on your site! I doubt these will transfer to UM Insight — different platform — but I’d like to reprint your post, providing of course that you’re willing to be seen in the company of us moderates, liberals and other ne’er-do-wells. 🙂

  10. Agree with you 100%. Stay and tough it out. Heck, orthodox/evangelical/conservative Methodists are “winning” on many fronts, including GC votes, and even getting new faculty hires at UM seminaries that steer the seminary to the right, or at least to the center.

    Theologically and practically, we have way too many denominations in the US to effectively witness to the unity of the body of Christ. If conservatives insist on leaving the UMC, I’d suggest either ACNA, the Wesleyan Church, Free Methodists, or Church of the Nazarene (depending on one’s particular view of the theological and biblical value of episcopacy). Frankly, I think given that they’re out-numbered, it would probably be preferrable if the progressive Methodists who can’t live with current polity simply migrated to the Episcopal, ELCA, or PCUSA (again, depending on one’s view of the theological and biblical value of the episcopacy).

    I say all of this with the disclaimer that I don’t want a UMC split–I think we’re better as we are, and I know for a fact that many, if not most, pastors and lay people can co-exist with differing opinions but united to abide by our polity and doctrine. I have many friends, colleagues, and acquaintances with whom I disagree on LGBT issues–such as you, Joel–but for whom I am grateful to be part of the same connection, and with whom I authentically feel connected as a partner in the body of Christ known as the UMC.

  11. Joel, this is a good discussion and I’ve taken a couple days to chew on how I would reply. I think you’re sort of wrong. But at least you are thoughtfully wrong instead of knee-jerk wrong like some who might choose to expound on this topic. I think your two examples are actually not bad situations at all. There will always be some conflict in the Church. Every church, every segment of the Church, has conflict. The PCA could split this decade or they could last another 100 years or more. (They make excellent music by the way.) ACNA could fall apart or they could end up replacing TEC in the global Anglican communion. There is really no telling until it happens. The rumors of their demise may be greatly exaggerated. I don’t think there is nearly enough evidence to call either of these groups a failure.

    Interestingly, I like your own article that you linked to: Speaking from a slightly different frame of reference there, you noted the PCA as an example of an organization who, like the UMC, was facing possible schism, but was trying to hold the center. That brings to mind the question: is the PCA like the UMC, or is it like the right wing of the UMC would be? And is the PCA going to hold, or is it going to split? I guess there are four combinations of different answers to those two questions, so the analogy is getting confusing!

    Backing up a little to the big picture: I think there is a pervasive ebb-and-flow found throughout church history. Just witness the churches of Asia Minor, North Africa, and, well, America. God saves people in generations, not in perpetual family inheritances. Many Christian groups and many different ecclesiastical arrangements have come and gone, and they all made disciples of Jesus Christ in their time, despite imperfections, disagreements, and schisms. If the PCA lasts for but a few generations, it may have yet fulfilled its Kingdom purpose. If the UMC lasts for but 50 years, or 220, or whenever you want to start counting, you could say the same. If a conservative (or a liberal) offshoot blooms for a while but eventually breaks up, it would still have a role to play in salvation history.

    (^^I am obviously an unrepentant Protestant!)


  12. I am not a pastor, but on the question of conflicting vows…..

    I assume when you make your pastoral vows initially,you do not believe they conflict, or you would not make them in the first place.
    If you later come to believe they conflict, then either way you go, you are breaking your vows. It would seem to me the only way to keep from breaking your vows, the only way to maintain integrity, is to leave the UMC.
    Am I missing something (always a definite possibility)?

    1. There have been some pastors that I have known who believed that they were called to ordination in the UMC for the purposes of changing the stance of the church. While I would not go so far as to guess how many have, but there have been several. There is a wing of the church that seems to believe that activism is the only proper display of holy living, so the vow means little when compared to that.

      1. Given the amount of money, time and study involved in earning an M.Div., plus the writing and multiple committee interviews involved in candidacy, commissioning and ordination, PLUS the challenges of the day to day and week to week work of pastoring, I highly doubt that ANYONE pursued UMC ordination “for the purposes of changing the stance of the church.” The opportunity to vote every four years for General Conference delegates is hardly a compensation for someone not otherwise called to the work of the ordained. If one wished to “change the stance of the church,” pursuing election as a LAY member of Annual Conference and as a LAY delegate to General Conference is MUCH more efficient, though I doubt that is the motivation of lay folks as well.

        1. Typically, the way these things play out, some young person goes into his or her chosen profession with high ideals. Then, once on the inside, they begin to see rampant problems.

          The result is career changes, cynicism, disenchantment, rebellions, etc.

          The above is as much true of secular callings as religious one. It can happen in business, counseling, education, government service, law enforcement, medicine, military service, political office, as well as religious callings.

          Even marriage and family are not exempt! In fact, that’s one of the threads in the feminist rebellion against patriarchy.

          These problems usually exit because of a lack of honesty within the society. Youth are sold on altruistic ideals such as helping people only to discover a system beset by greed, petty politics, and vicious games of one-upmanship.

          Absent a systemic collapse, reform is impossible because some self-serving group at the top of the pecking order is making money or is able to wield political power.

          It is all just one of those things that makes the world go ’round.

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