A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Irreconcilable Differences: Why a Split in the United Methodist Church is Inevitable

I am now about to wade into the muck of an issue I have avoided, but feel I can do so no longer. The subject of this post has been on my mind for a long time now. As I write, let me state that this post is not about whether the UMC should continue to reject or change its position and endorse gay marriage. If you want to engage in that discussion, as important as it is, there are plenty of other blogs in which you can participate. The purpose of this post, and let me be clear, is to make what I think has become the obvious case that the United Methodist Church is definitely moving toward a split... a schism and it is unavoidable. (I have to say that the Protestant use of the term "schism" amuses me. For five hundred years Protestants have multiplied by dividing and now we are treating "schism" as some great sin... well... that's another post for another time.) I am not interested in this post in the virtues, or the lack thereof, of gay marriage. Rather, I want to focus on what I think is the obvious truth-- the days of the current United Methodist Church are numbered. I am very sad about that, but I think it is the coming reality.

Consider this scenario: a couple whose marriage is in deep trouble decide to go to a counselor to save their marriage. Both husband and wife want their marriage to continue. The problem is that he continues to physically and verbally abuse her while she continues to have affairs with other men. In counseling it is very clear that each person believes the problem is the behavior of the other alone, and that the solution to saving the marriage is for the other spouse to cease their egregious behavior while the other one keeps on keeping on. One side wants the other to stop church trials for violating the Discipline while the other wants the opposition to cease violating the Discipline.

In this parallel with the UMC, the husband symbolizes the traditionalists who believe that the progressives (the wife) is breaking the covenant by not keeping the vows they made. The wife, the progressives, are charging the traditionalists (the husband) with abusing the lgbtq community by their continued opposition to full inclusion. One side believes the other is alone at fault. Both sides want to save the United Methodist marriage, but both sides believe only the other is responsible for the very rocky relationship; and each side is accusing the other of being the schismatics.

Now, would any marriage counselor have any hope for a marriage to continue in such a situation? To be sure, God can work miracles in any troubled marriage, and it can be so in a deeply fractured church, but all the talk about unity in Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit has not changed the clear truth that the subject of human sexuality for both progressives and traditionalists in the UMC is a non-negotiable and that will not change.

And let add a word about the local option. When it was first put forward I read the proposal with interest and spent some time in reflection. The progressives see the local option as their attempt at compromise, but here is the problem as I see it. First, for the traditionalists approval of gay marriage, even in the local UM setting is still a bridge too far. Second, a change toward the local option will not be sufficient for progressives because their view of human sexuality is also a non-negotiable. The local option will be a first step toward a global church that is fully inclusive as they understand it. Again, for both sides we are dealing with non-negotiables. Moreover, letting individual Annual Conferences decide the matter will not solve the problem. Instead of having a big fight every four years, it will happen every year at many Annual Conferences because whatever is decided at the AC level will not be acceptable to the other side. It was quite clear at the most recent General Conference that neither side trusts each other.  Accusations of dishonesty to under-handedness abounded from both sides. Now that it has come to this can we seriously believe the marriage can be saved? Vital unity needs diversity, but diversity for its own sake unifies no one.

Only two matters remain: first, how long will we deny that the divorce is coming; for the longer we deny it, the more painful the breakup will be. Second, what will be the terms of the divorce? It's time to admit that our differences are irreconcilable and no amount of theological and moral argument will bridge the impasse. As a theologian it is difficult for me to admit that, but I believe it is true.

The problem with non-negotiables is that they are non-negotiable... and non-negotiables make differences irreconcilable.

It is sad, but it is true.


Lynne said...

My husband (also a United Methodist Pastor) and I feel the same. We've debated leaving the denomination. We are among the traditionalists (although I hate any sort of "label"), and we feel as though remaining "yoked" to people who are openly defying the Word of God is unhealthy for our Christian walk and puts us in the position of less blessed. Through much prayer we've decided it's not yet time for us to jump ship. We believe it is inevitable, but for the time being Christ has called us to make a stand, a loving, grace-filled stand. Our leadership team voted to withhold our Fund II, III & IV apportionments with a letter to the council of Bishops requesting that they be leaders and stand on the Word of God. So, while our church will be leaving as soon as Christ releases us, we are choosing to be vocal about the truth before we leave.

Mike Frosolono said...

I posted the following material on my Facebook timeline.

I believe this article succinctly and correctly assesses the situation concerning a schism in the United Methodist Church regarding (1) full inclusion of LGBTQ persons into our fellowship and (2) more fundamentally, the inviolability of clergy vows to uphold the Book of Discipline.

The probability of a schism is not yet certain but is extremely high (i.e., approaching 1.0 or 100%). As I mentioned in a previous post, the idea of a schism does not necessarily mean a disaster for the denomination but may provide a mechanism for creative destruction out of which something stronger may arise. Even so, humans are a creative species and I advocate a schism only when no truly creative solutions can be found.

Accordingly, for those among us who wish to avoid a schism, I suggest a thought experiment: Put forth a mechanism that will avoid the schism and thereby allow the great majority of progressives and traditionalists to remain in the current iteration—possibly modified—of the United Methodist Church. In presenting such solutions, we don't need further presentations of the pros and cons for full inclusion of LGBTQ persons or the inviolability of clergy vows. We've had a sufficiency of these discussions, which have all too often been uncompromising and full of theological invective. What I'm requesting are well-reasoned proposals to avoid a schism. I also ask that anyone who engages in this thought experiment to refrain from statements such as "treat everyone with love and respect" or "allow the Holy Spirit to provide a solution." We can, of course, engage in and express Christian love for our LGBTQ and heterosexual brothers and sisters while a schism takes place. I suggest we follow St. Augustine's dictum: "God provides the wind (Holy Spirit); man (we) must raise the sails (tangible proposals)."