Two growing churches — one of which is led by a pastor who also sits on the WCA board — have voted to begin the process of pulling out of The United Methodist Church.
A few years ago, Thomas Oden (RIP), wrote
Wesley remained steadfast in his conviction to remain in the church that baptized him until he was either forced out or compelled by unavoidable conscience to depart. He never left, and neither have I. I find myself ironically in a position analogous to Wesley’s in 1784, when he preached his famous sermon “On Schism.” He urged his fellow Methodists: “Do not rashly tear asunder the sacred ties which unite you to any Christian society.” (Here)
He is correct. That was Wesley’s two simple rules — no separation unless he was forced out or compelled to do something against the Gospel. Oden goes on to wrestle with Wesley’s words, ultimately concluding,
The problem of conscience is thus narrowed to whether the church commands you to do something wrong. Throughout my ministry I have continually remained in covenant connection with clergy with whom I disagree on both doctrinal and moral issues. If other ministers disavow their vows, I have preferred to act through ordinary disciplinary means to correct those abuses. My church has had innumerable failures of discipline during all my years of ministry, but these did not require separation. They call for the sensible use of legislative and judicial means of correction.
I can say with good conscience that I have not yet been commanded by my church to do something contrary to God’s command…
…So long as the church to which I am now united does not require me to do anything that the Scripture forbids, or to omit anything the Scripture enjoins, it is my indispensable duty to continue therein. Even if the general conference denies what Scripture enjoins, I am not required to cooperate with that attempt. I can stay and stand against the distortion. I want with all my heart to remain within the wrenched body that ordained me…
…As long as the classic Wesleyan doctrinal standards are in place and constitutionally guaranteed, my intention is not to leave the church that baptized me and ordained me. But if the church requires of me some act to which I cannot in good conscience consent, I will, like John Wesley, consider it “my bounden duty to separate from it without delay.”
One of the options on the table is to restructure the connexion in such a way as to allow differing views on human sexuality. As I have noted, this issue is a holiness issue — and is not likely to have the sides retreat if given a legislative boundary. Besides that point, there is something else — the very theological stance of the connexion. Polity and ecclesiology are theological precepts. Our connexion is Wesleyan and shaped by Wesleyan theology.
Why would the connexion need to be changed and what is the hope behind that? Because right now, a bishop in the UMC is a bishop of the entire church. The entire church is supposed to recognize their orders as well as pay their salary. In order to allow clergy and bishops that do not meet the current traditionalist qualifications, a new connexional structure is being proposed.
However, because the connexion is a theological stance, to change it would then force those who believe as a theological precept in the connexion to stay in a situation they do not believe in. They would have to submit to an upending of the Wesleyan ecclesiology in order to remain in the fiasco.
As congregations decide whether or not to stay, leave, or wait, we cannot surmise that if one annual conference was able to decide for itself its own rules of sexuality that suddenly the problem would go away — or that this solution would ease Thomas Oden’s conscience about remaining. Indeed, it would only cause more problems in a relatively short order as well as upend Wesleyan doctrine — on both sides of the argument.