Hey UMC! Maybe we can try this…
A few weeks ago I was sitting at a table with some of the most creative smart, and funny people I know. We are all deeply connected to the United Methodist Church and very concerned for the future of this great church. As often happens in these kinds of conversations opinions regarding the future of the church ran the gamut from hopeful to less than pessimistic. Some felt that we are just in the midst of a temporary ecclesiastical ‘hiccup’ while others thought the United Methodist Church was already dead. I remain very confused and often internally conflicted regarding our church. I long for a vibrant church that is missionally engaging the world while remaining true to the cause of Christ and our Wesleyan Methodist heritage. The current debates surrounding homosexuality and the conduct of pastors and bishops who’ve conducted same-sex weddings simply serve to expose the divisions that are already there. I don’t think we could be any more divided than we currently are. When pressed most of us will admit that homosexuality is only the presenting issue and not the root cause of our divide. There are more important questions that divide us like Christology and the role of Holy Scripture. The big question for the UMC today however, is where do we go from here? Do we make formal what is already informally true about us? Do we split? Or do we find a way to remain in communion with one another? Neither option is easy. Neither option will be painless. Neither option will solve everything. But we certainly can’t continue the way we have been. So what’s next for the people called ‘Methodist?’
An interesting idea came to our table that evening. An idea that frankly I initially dismissed as impossible. But I can’t get it off my mind. Every time I read or hear about the current events in the world of the United Methodist Church my thoughts return to this seemingly impossible idea. What’s this crazy idea you ask? Well, and I preface this by saying that I still don’t know if I agree with it, but here it is: ‘What if we did with intentionality what the Anglicans stumbled into?’ What if we created a worldwide Methodist communion where we could join together for the things we do well (UMCOR, Imagine No Malaria, etc) and things that are advantageous to do together (pensions, insurance, etc) while creating two or more mostly autonomous denominations within that worldwide Methodist communion. Each of the mostly autonomous denominations would be free to name their new denomination, define their own theological commitments, and then structure and strategize accordingly (and there would be a whole lot more to consider than just this brief framework). I understand that the challenges against this kind of idea are immense. I also understand that many would say it’s not worth the time, effort, and pain to make it happen. Some may even say ‘isn’t that what was tried at a previous General Conference?’ This idea would not make the U.S. its own jurisdiction/central conference; I think it’s fundamentally different than that previous idea.
I still don’t know about it. I still don’t know if I agree with it. I still don’t know if it’s even possible. But I keep thinking about it. And now I’m wondering if this crazy little conversation held at a table with friends late at night might actually be better way forward than either schism or continuing the way we have been.
I don’t know, anybody have a better idea?
Grace and Peace, Rich