The coming shattering of the UMC

umc logoThis is a pertinent article — not merely for the current political climate but likewise for the UMC (which seems inexplicably linked to the US).

Even in the War Between the States, there were some pro-Union areas in the Confederacy and pro-Confederate areas in the North. Not a lot, but some. When the ME split in the 1840’s, the border states saw congregations split. But today, it is vastly different.

Any “split” in the UMC will result not in geographical schisms but very likely in congregational splits, AC splits, and jurisdictional splits. It will not be a northern church and a southern church – it will simply be a number of different, small, and dying denominations.

The liberal and progressive denominations will be dead in a decade or two. The more conservative ones will last a bit longer, growing more conservative.

You’ll have one or two succeed – but it will not reach the heyday of American Methodism and will most likely find a way to merge with an existing Wesleyan denomination.

It won’t be a schism, but a shattering.

With the recent actions by annual conferences in New York and Baltimore-Washington, this shattering may happen sooner rather than the slow amputation expected in 2020. Why? Because no longer is General Conference and the majority vote of the conference worth anything.

To that end, I recommend that all churches refuse to pay their apportionments until the Bishops bring to heel those conferences. Yes, I know what this means, but in the end, the covenant is broken — and as history, morality, and ethics have shown, to support covenant breakers is wrong (indeed, Scripture speaks many times of those who abuse vows, promises, and covenants). Further, BOOMs must begin to require a closer accountability to the doctrinal standards of the United Methodist Church. If someone cannot pass muster, honestly and with integrity, they should not be given a pass through. Yes, doctrine does matter. So does a biblical view of covenant making.

If the votes of the elected delegates no longer matter, then it really is anarchy. With anarchy comes the need to hoard your supplies.

God bless and see you on the other side.

Consider the CUP plan, by the way.

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14 Replies to “The coming shattering of the UMC”

  1. Joel, if you posted this on your twitter feed I missed it. An interesting approach to this matter. As a pastor of a church that has some financial struggles, and last year got back to paying its apportionments, it would be a challenge. I suppose I would need to have a church-wide discussion to move that direction. In any case, you have highlighted the seriousness of what has happened in a graphic way. I may need to look into this further.

  2. had a church that tried that almost 40 years ago a Bishop (Melvin Wheatley) and THREE District Superintendents personally visited my church! 95% of my congregation walked out that night, and formed other churches.

  3. I love you Joel, but the flaw in this post is ignoring the sometimes-conflicting covenants clergy clergy wrestle with. There are conflicts inherent in the ordination covenant to uphold the Book of Discipline which is fraught by the BoD’s own contradiction between being in ministry to all and yet requiring discrimination against gay folks regarding same sex marriage. And there are conflicts between that one and a pastor’s covenant with God in responding to His call to ministry. Also the Baptismal covenant we laity and clergy make to babies that we’ll love them and nurture their faith but too often we break it by rejecting them overtly or implicitly when the come out. Obviously there is much disagreement over what these covenants mean, so if that disagreement means they are “broken” I’d say “fair enough.” But most people who decry “covenant breaking in the UMC” are complaining about pastors who officiate same sex weddings or come out as gay etc. I feel like we need to better understand and respect their reasons for doing as they do with the ordination vow vs other covenants. And you can say they misunderstand doctrine because their understanding is different from yours or a majority of GC, and from that you may claim they act in error. But you should acknowledge that they think they are upholding a higher covenant then the one they break. A little sympathy for that dilemma would be in order.

    The better response of General Conference would be to realize that the creeping legalism in how we’ve successively added prohibitions and punishments has been a mistake. This matter (officiating same sex marriage) is best left to pastor’s own prayerful discretion concerning which couples they should marry or not. This is a flaw in our BoD that is causing so much problems. And while I get your sense that they should obey the BoD flaws and all, but changing BoD is a better restoration of the covenant than withholding of apportionments. Even discussing such withholding is destructive to the local church as well as all the connections to the annual conference and global body. As a lay leader of my local church, I’d never go that path and I’d fight the pastor hard if she ever tried it.

    1. Dave,

      I have very little sympathy for those who abuse and willfully harm others — either for the conservatives who call gays “beasts” or those for inclusion who break their vows to God and hurt the entire UMC. Further, I have very little sympathy for those who cannot follow the logic of their arguments.

      We have a system of governance in the UMC that is based on voting and as such, requires the losing side to honor the vote. However, what we are seeing is that the losing side, becoming more and more desperate, are resorting to reactionary methods. Rather than honoring decorum, covenant, and polity, they have decided that they alone know best and that they, the minority who have lost, will now decide the future for the whole.

      If this is the case, then those who cannot live without the covenant (while fighting for it to change, mind you) should be honest with themselves and leave. Otherwise, the majority will suffer — and then the minority will too.

  4. I am not Joel, but I am going to respond anyway. Joel is a big boy and can easily answer for himself after all. 🙂
    The UMC recognizes that the rite of marriage may only properly be performed for one man and one woman. That is not discrimination in the sense that it seemed you mean it. It is very much the church protecting the proper administering of it’s rites. I would hope that you would not say it was the same sort of discrimination for the church to refuse to perform the rite for a plural marriage for instance. This is most often seen with local pastors having the ability to refuse to perform the rite of marriage to a couple that they do not feel it should be performed for. The UMC, as a denomination, has said however that the rite may only be performed for a man and a woman. We can go round and round about if that position is correct, but it is not discrimination as you seem to use it, it is however the understanding of scripture that the UMC has as a result of it’s doctrine. That understanding may be wrong, but then again, your understanding may be wrong as well. Please do not make it something it is not. Those much liberal than I often clamor for conservatives to accept that they have a valid view of scripture, us conservatives simply want the same thing. The church is not denying rights to anyone, they are properly, as they understand it, performing their rites within their doctrine. That should be respected and not called something it is not.
    As to conflicting covenants, there is no real conflict. Performing the rite of marriage is certainly a part of ministry and I would never say otherwise, but see above, that rite is not promised to any of us. If an individual pastor chooses not to perform a marriage are they similarly not being in ministry with everyone? Surely the church and it’s pastors have the responsibility of administering the rites with some qualifications. In baptism, there are qualifications, and even in the Eucharist there are, as in their must be a willingness to engage. That is a very easily met qualification of course, but it still is one. Again we can reasonable argue over what those qualifications should be, but we should not deny that they exist.
    The UMC, as a matter of it’s policies, offer everyone who is a member the exact same guarantees. Individual churches may differ to be sure, but that is an issue with the individual church, not an issue with the policies of the UMC. All baptized members have the same privileges in the church. A part of that same baptismal covenant that you mentioned is the following: “Will you nurture one another in the Christian faith and life
    and include these persons now before you in your care?
    With God’s help we will proclaim the good news
    and live according to the example of Christ.
    We will surround these persons
    with a community of love and forgiveness,
    that they may grow in their trust of God,
    and be found faithful in their service to others.
    We will pray for them,
    that they may be true disciples
    who walk in the way that leads to life”
    The church understands currently that sex between two people of the same gender is a sin and that marriage is acceptable to God only when it is one man and one woman (sorry, no polygamy either for example). The only way around that vow that you say is being broken is to somehow claim the UMC is not Christian. Part of being a disciple is personal holiness (since we are Wesleyan after all), which of course means the avoidance of sin. To be perfectly honest here, there is an argument to be made that teaching contrary to the church’s understanding of sin is what is failing in that oath. Again, we can talk back and forth all day about what is and is not a sin (IE what constitutes personal holiness), but claiming that the church is doing harm, discriminating, etc. because it says that an action is a sin means that, taken to it’s logical conclusion, the church can no longer tech the 10 commandments…that is ridiculous.
    The ordination vow, quite simply, requires one to uphold the BoD. We understand that the BoD both lists some of our doctrine and also the orderly functioning of our church. We accept that it is, however imperfect it may be (and is), our understanding of the will of God for the UMC, even in those times we do not understand it or agree with it, and I would say especially when we do not agree with it. It is the same question that I and others have asked continually. If you do not trust the GC to make the moral decision, then why are you here as it means that the one voice of the denomination is immoral. As to the question of conflicting oaths, there is no conflict save one that is illusion. The vow at ordination is to serve God through the UMC, not an oath to serve God and an oath to serve the UMC. When you break the vow to one, you break it to both. Any separation of that is an illusion. As I have often said, I support anyone who believes strongly in their cause to present it and work through the (Overly complicated and tedious) process of change, but actions outside of that are not a conflict of the vow to church or God, as the vow is the same. That is why many of us lay types are so concerned over the breaking of the vow. We are equally concerned that there is, for many, an artificial separation in the one vow that was made.
    The idea that somehow the defining of marriage should be left to individual pastors is problematic. It is not a decision based on individuals, but a decision about the very nature of Christian marriage. That is not a matter for a local pastor, but rather a mater for the church as a whole. It also allows for the possibility of individual pastors deciding what is and what is not sin. No, not all marriages will include intimate physical contact, but it is allowable in marriage according to our understanding of scripture. So, pastor A allows for SSM, and as a result, allows for sex between two people of the same gender. Pastor B does not because marriage is one man and one woman, and also that sex between two people of the same gender is an inherently sinful act. You now have individual pastors deciding what is and what is not a sin. That is a recipe for full blown early church fathers heresy. It is indeed how it came to be. Individuals deciding for themselves what is and what is not sin. What is and what is not the proper understanding of scripture. Those matters are better left for the church as a whole so that the will of God by the moving of the Holy Spirit can rightly discerned. No one of us has all the answers, that is why we have the system that we do in order to try and properly discern those answers.

    1. I meant discrimination in the natural sense of the word threating one group differently from another based on an inherent characteristic of that group. Our BoD asserts we should be in ministry to all but that the rite of marriage only be available to heterosexuals.

      I do not mean it in a civil legal sense because I think State should not dictate to Church in such matters. If UMC wants to continue to discriminate, it has a religious freedom right to do. As a church member, I believe that to be wrong (as it was wrong in previous generations concerning status and role of women and non-white people).

      1. “I meant discrimination in the natural sense of the word threating one group differently from another based on an inherent characteristic of that group” Thank you for clarifying. The church does not do that either. Who we choose to marry and/or choose to have sex with is just that, a choice. If who we choose to marry or have sex with is inherent, then so are a multitude of other things, telling a lie ( a choice), beating an animal (a choice), drinking to much soda (a choice), etc. If that is the case, then we are back to the church can not set any standard, and that prevents the proper functioning fo the church and it’s mission.

  5. I agree that the split will not be as geographically blatant as the MEC split in 1844 and the Baptist split in 1845. It is not about North verses South. It is about biblical orthodoxy and theological integrity. The author is very pessimistic about a “shattering.” I am not. God always prunes the vine and cuts off the branches that do not bear fruit. The ax is already laid at the root of the UMC. Judgment is upon us. Failure for the righteous remnant to remain true to the faith handed down to us by Wesley and Asbury and to the ministry to which God holds us personally accountable will only accelerate the demise of American Methodism. There are some things worse than schism. One is remaining unequally yoked together with those who deny the authority of scripture and who hold to teachings that leave people in spiritual pearl. This is not a time for trepidation. It is a time for strong determination and a faith that God will preserve his holy church.

    1. Chuck, I think it is mainly a change in desperation of the Left. They see that the conversation will soon be over, and rather than continue to work inside the system, have made it their determined effort to destroy the UMC.

      When tactics change, so do outcomes. There won’t be a split, but a shattering.

  6. Who are we to determine which sin should specifically divide us..? We now present as a social organization instead of messengers of the Holy Gospels… We should be for people… Not picking a scarlet letter to advertise our presumptions of eternal damnation!

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