Irreconcilable Differences in the United Methodist Church
I’m a humble student of God’s Word, a servant at my church, and a sinner in need of a Savior. We all sin and fall short of the glory of God. In my humble opinion as a lifelong, third generation United Methodist who watched the UMC General Conference and witnessed the aftermath in the media (social and otherwise), I’ve never felt so strongly that it is time for the United Methodist Church to split.
In case you missed it, there’s been great controversy in the UMC lately. The United Methodist Church website, www.umc.org, states “A Special Session of the General Conference of The United Methodist Church took place February 23-26, 2019 in St. Louis, Missouri. The purpose was to act on a report from the Commission on a Way Forward, authorized to examine paragraphs in The Book of Discipline concerning human sexuality and to explore options to strengthen church unity.”
Several different plans were proposed, and after the delegates narrowed it down to the two plans that would be voted on, people found themselves on opposite sides depending on where they and their congregations stood on highly controversial issues.
Like many, I watched the Special Session online, and the UMC did an excellent job from a technical standpoint; to home viewers it seemed to be very well-organized, effectively moderated, and live-streamed complete with worship and prayer. But it was very difficult to watch because the stakes -and emotions- were so high. Both sides were so committed to their views that I saw no way it would end well. So, like many others, I prayed for God to bring peace, wisdom and reconciliation to the proceedings. I appreciated the prayer and worship breaks and I’m sure those attending did as well. I appreciated the requests to go to God in prayer before votes were made.
At the Special Session, members took turns vehemently arguing FOR or AGAINST whichever amendment or plan was on the floor. Passionate speeches were made. Alliances were formed. Positions were defended. Feelings were raw. Accusations were made. Threats and rallying cries went up, people chanted and sang and booed and cheered at various points in the proceedings.
Throughout the Special Session, and in the days since the passing of The Traditional Plan, The Traditionalists and the pro-LGBT members, who supported the One Church Plan, have repeatedly shown how diametrically opposed they are. When the Traditional Plan was passed, and the One Church Plan defeated, nobody truly won because it was more confirmation of how opposed the two sides had become.
I have loved ones in the LGBT community, and I hate to see so much hurt and divisiveness, with harsh words, accusations, and promises for more strife and conflict thrown about. I share these thoughts at the risk of angering and even possibly alienating friends and loved ones, for the sake of those people out there I’ve never met yet: those who desperately need to hear the Good News. Those are the very people we are meant to reach, so that we can share the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I love our church as I love the Lord, with all my heart, and I pray that the Lord will guide each of us to understanding His will for our church.
How can we go on like this? During the Special Session there were pledges to run out the clock, delegates speaking over one another, delegates refusing to acknowledge the Chair, and accusations of members buying votes. In the days since Special Session we’ve seen a flurry of communications and outrage on social media, with more accusations of impropriety, and there is an incredible sense that things will never be the same again.
What would Jesus say about our current situation?
Would Jesus want us to disrupt the missions and tarnish the witness of a longstanding church, or would He want us to settle this quickly so we can get back to building the Kingdom of God? Are we serving our own interests, or His?
Would Jesus want us to blame our brothers and sisters overseas for how their numbers affected the vote, or would He want us to pray for those who are being persecuted and murdered in His name, while we in the United States churches argue amongst ourselves?
Would Jesus have taken sides at the Special Session, where each side was so focused on winning arguments and amendments and winning more people to their point of view? Or would He have been disappointed or even furious to see the leaders of the United Methodist Church trying to win arguments and thus win worldly approval, ideological victory and riches, i.e., church properties, rather than winning souls for the Kingdom of God?
Would Jesus want us to continue fighting amongst ourselves? Or would He tell us each to pick up our cross and follow Him?
HOW COULD WE MOVE ON FROM HERE?
We need to trust and empower our leaders, not ask them to do the impossible. If we cannot reconcile our differences, we must agree to disagree and move on.I’ve worked with Pastors, School Principals, Presidents of companies, and Presidents of nonprofit organizations. As an Executive/Administrative Assistant, I have worked with 5 different Pastors, and countless church and ministry leaders, in two different denominations. I have seen firsthand the burden that Pastors assume for their staff and their congregations, and in the United Methodist Church there is the added commitment to go where one is sent, a call which includes and impacts a Pastor’s family and children. Each year, Pastors make a request and then they wait to learn whether their request to move or stay has been approved, a decision which affects their entire family and often involves new jobs, new schools, new homes, new doctors, new circles of friends, and new church families. This fact must have weighed heavily on all during these negotiations.
Leaders of churches, schools, companies and organizations feel great responsibility, both for those within their organization and for those served by their organization. I’ve had a hand in Executive Search, Mergers & Acquisitions, Human Resources, Public Relations, Event Planning, and Corporate Communications. I’ve been privy to behind-closed-doors meetings where the higher-ups agonize over the ramifications of big changes. It’s never easy and we need to extend grace to our Christian brothers and sisters who have had to make difficult, agonizing choices that will affect so many others.
There seem to be irreconcilable differences within the UMC. Watching the Special Session felt like being a devastated child forced to choose which parent to live with, while fearing that the parent they didn’t choose would be angry and very, very hurt, and might shut them out of their life completely. There was a definite undercurrent of strife throughout the Special Session, and now that a decision has been made, both sides are reeling, just as in divorce, and there are cries of injustice. What makes it seem even more surreal is the realization these are the chosen delegates, the leaders of the United Methodist Church, and yet there is still so much strife and contention.
IRRECONCILABLE DIFFERENCES MAKE SPLITTING UP THE ONLY LOGICAL REMEDY.
The UMC needs to split because a church needs to agree on foundational issues so that leaders and Pastors can do their ministry according to their own interpretation of God’s word, ministering to those for whom they are called, as they see fit.
The UMC needs to split because a church needs to agree on how to interpret scripture and how to minister to their congregation because it affects the type of ministry we can and will do at church. How we interpret the Bible has many implications for what we hear, say and do. What am I equipped for? Do I relate to my Pastor and does he/she relate to me? As a divorced person I’ve gotten all sorts of counsel and advice, and I often feel that only someone who has walked in my shoes can truly relate.
The UMC needs to split because a church needs to recruit and retain staff based on geography, qualifications, preferences and family considerations, and do not need additional burdens such as ideological conflicts on core beliefs. Ideological consensus will mean better opportunities for church growth, ministry and evangelism.
The UMC needs to split because a church needs to foster relationships with congregations and pastors, and because churches need to take good care of our pastors. UMC Districts are already at a disadvantage as compared to other local churches where Pastors can stay in place for decades and build up long relationships over years and years. The LGBT community has unique issues including a high suicide rate among youth and suddenly losing a trusted pastor could severely impact ongoing relationships. How would a Pastor feel being sent away from those who they know are counting on them? How would a pastor feel if they were sent from an LGBT congregation to a non-LGBT congregation, and vice versa? How effective would ministry be, with such changes on the table each year if this is such a pivotal issue? How would these factors affect pastor retention, morale and burnout?
IF THE UMC SPLITS, IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE CONTENTIOUS OR CONTROVERSIAL. WE HAVE A RESPONSIBILITY TO FIX THIS AND SET AN EXAMPLE THAT GLORIFIES GOD.
If we can agree to disagree, our leaders can discuss things rationally. Of course, the legalities are complex. But despite all the horror stories, there ARE peaceful divorces. The Church can and should set an example that glorifies God and reduces strife and contention. The world, and our children, are watching and the world at large is already fascinated, and so affected by how we are handling ourselves in this situation. Even with our differences, we have two incredibly important things in common:
WE SHARE A COMMON ENEMY who seeks to kill, steal and destroy, and his weapons are strife, offense, anger and lies. Our only weapons against Satan and his lies are God’s word and His truth. We are all meant to stand together against the enemy, to strengthen each other against his attacks, and to bring God’s hope and light to the world. Settling this amicably within the UMC will send a strong message that the enemy can not divide us- we can separate on our own and each be stronger than we were before.
“When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” ~John 8:44 (NIV)
WE SHARE A COMMON MISSION, fulfilling the Great Commission:
Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” ~Matthew 28:16-20 (NIV)
WE SHARE AN INCREDIBLE CHURCH FAMILY, and just as in divorce, there is tremendous opportunity for harm or good, depending upon how we handle ourselves in this situation. The unchurched need us, the world is watching, and our children are watching.
In my humble opinion, it’s time to pick up our crosses and follow Jesus.
Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? ~Matthew 16:24-26 (ESV)