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.