The UMC-an old Marine’s take: “Retreat Hell!”
I’m fighting a temptation today. I’m deeply tempted to write about what happened at the Connectional Table (a leading committee for the United Methodist Church) meeting last Tuesday, and there’s certainly a lot to respond to, to call out, to complain about, to rant over. Well, you get the point. I’m just not sure that would be very helpful. It would be easier. But not helpful. It would be cathartic. But not helpful. It would probably drive up readership on my blog. But that’s not the most important thing. So, I’m fighting that temptation.
Lately I’ve been asked, ‘Rich, as an evangelical Methodist, why aren’t you supporting a split?’ Further, I’ve been accused of being in denial, not being forceful enough, capitulating to the institutionalists, and several other things I won’t repeat here. But I think the first question is fair, especially after Tuesday’s one-sided fiasco of a non-dialogical dialogue (yep, I just made up that phrase). So, I’ll try to answer briefly before moving on to what I really want to say today.
You ever heard the saying, “once a Marine, always a Marine?” One of the most formative events in my life were the four years I spent in the United States Marine Corps. So you should know something about Marines, we don’t like to lose, we don’t give up, we don’t retreat. One of the marks of the Marine Corps is that they are an offensive force, meaning that Marines are more inclined to attack, to move forward, than to defend or retreat. And frankly, running away is simply not an option. If I’m to be honest with myself, and now with you, then I have to admit that in the back of my mind is the idea that to endorse a split in the United Methodist Church would be to admit defeat. It would feel like a retreat. It would feel like running away. And, I don’t like to run away from problems or challenges. I don’t like to just give up. However, there is another part of Marine Corps history and lore that I’m thinking about today. During the Korean war when the Marines were met with an overwhelming force at Chosin Resevoir, and were forced to change directions, even then they couldn’t admit retreating. Instead a new defining statement came into usage, “Retreat, hell! We’re not retreating, we’re just advancing in a different direction” (Attributed to Gen. Oliver P. Smith). Maybe that defines where I’m at right now regarding a possible split in the UMC.
So much of the reasoning for a split seems to be couched in the language of retreat. And if I were to embrace the idea of a split, then it would have to be in the form of a compelling vision of what we are running towards, not what we’re running away from. Now I know that my opinion on a split in the United Methodist Church will not matter very much; there are forces much larger at work in this matter, and it’s likely that at some point, if a split becomes inevitable, all of us in the UMC will be forced to ‘pick sides’ whether we want to or not. But, I still desire to hear a compelling vision. A vision of where we are going. And there are several commitments I would need to see as a part of a new Methodist movement:
1. A commitment to historic orthodox Christian theology with a clearly articulated Wesleyan-Arminian perspective. For far too long those on the far left have embraced a feel good Universalism while those far right have embraced the language of semi-calvinism, and sometimes even dispensationalism. We are different than either of those movements, if we are to move forward, then we must be who we are as Wesleyan-Arminians.
2. A commitment to the missional proclamation of the Gospel, “It was also written that this message would be proclaimed in the authority of his name to all the nations, beginning in Jerusalem: ‘There is forgiveness of sins for all who repent.” (Luke 24:47 NLT-SE) and “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by confessing with your mouth that you are saved.” (Romans 10:9–10 NLT-SE). We seem to have forgotten the need to personally embrace and proclaim the plain Gospel message.
3. A commitment to our distinctive means of discipleship formation: a renewal of emphases on modern forms of Societies, Classes, and Bands. Across the board, we have abandoned the forming and making of disciples and substituted activities and programs that inform the mind, or the ‘family feel’ of the church community, but fail to transform character and therefore make disciples of Jesus.
4. A commitment to a fluid institutional structure. We need a truly connectional structure that encourages and enables missional engagement in the world instead of the current UMC structure which so clearly inhibits that engagement.
5. A commitment to the empowerment of the laity and the local church. We must deemphasize the hierarchy of the general church, which serves to place the clergy in dominant roles, and form a true partnership between clergy and laity with a renewed focus on the ministry of the local church.
Well, those are just five commitments I would need to see, there are more, but those five are the minimum, if I were to ever fully embrace a split in the UMC. If someone were to create a compelling vision that included at least those five commitments, then I might feel a little more like we were moving into a new reality instead of running away from our issues. We do seem to be closer to a split than we have ever been in our forty plus years of existence. The United Methodist Church may well have entered her last days. But God is not through with the People Called Methodists. If indeed a split is to occur then I’m sure God will raise up the vision for a new Methodist movement!
Speak, Lord, Your servants are listening …
Grace and Peace,