UMC SCHISM: a response to Drew McIntyre’s 7 questions
‘I’ll never do that again, Lord, I promise.’ I’ve uttered those words more than a few times in the last few weeks. Each time I was swearing off participating in the United Methodist Church’s online debates around schism. But, here I go again. I’m unable to keep quiet. So once more into the breach . . .
Today, Drew McIntyre asked ‘7 Questions For the Potential #UMC Schismatics’ (Read the blog here: http://pastormack.wordpress.com). For some unknown reason I feel compelled to respond. But first, I appreciate the forthrightness of Drew’s questions. I think at heart they are honest questions from someone who disagrees with schism, and who would like some answers as we seem to be moving in that direction. However, as often happens in this online conversation, they become more than questions, and will probably be heard by most on the traditional side of things as more of an indictment than honest questions; more of a cloaked statement than an invitation to further conversation. So I will respond as best I can assuming both sets of intentions. And with this disclaimer; I’m only speaking for myself and not on behalf of any caucus or cause, and I have no first hand knowledge of, nor have I participated in, any conversations on a plan for schism.
Drew’s first question:
1. Is it about holiness or power? If it is about holiness, there are existing Wesleyan communities that will share your core theological convictions and perspectives about human sexuality. If it is about power, you will elect to go your own way. If it is about being true Wesleyans and holding unflinchingly to traditionalist views of marriage, the Church of the Nazarene, Wesleyan Church, or other bodies would be happy to have you. Why not strengthen an existing communion instead of adding to the brokenness of the Body of Christ?
Let me point out here that the question is indeed structured to point to a predetermined answer, but let’s move passed that to focus on the rationale for the question. The same argument you make here could, and should, be redirected toward the progressive movement within the church. After all, the the United Methodist Church already officially teaches the traditional view of holiness and Christian morality. It is the progressive movement that is attempting to change the official teaching of the church, it is clearly more appropriate to point that movement to communions that hold unflinchingly to their understandings, The Unitarian Universalist, The Metropolitan Community Church, The United Church of Christ, any of these would be ecstatic to have them, they would be strengthening those communions instead of adding to the brokenness of the Body of Christ.
Drew’s second question:
2. Will you have bishops? I would note that, even if you do not like the historic episcopal office, you have authoritative voices among you which function like the historic episcopos: voices that you rally around, that provide unity and vision for your movement. Which is to say: you may not care for the current slate of UMC bishops, but it is difficult to escape to need for leadership by whatever name.
You are right. There will be a need for leadership, and the traditional folks within the UMC are well equipped for good leadership. However, I have no idea if they will name this leadership ‘Bishop’ or not. I would think that all organizational options would remain on the table in the event a schism actually happens. One of the potential benefits would be the opportunity to try a new thing for a new day, organizationally speaking.
Drew’s third question:
3. When will you have your Jerry Maguire moment? (“Who’s going with me?“) Will you be content to leave on your own, or will you attempt do divide the UMC from some of its overseas partners, as has happened frequently in the Anglican world? To put it another way, how many eggs do you want to break to make your new omelet?
Certainly we all anticipate a clarion call at some point. Personally, I anticipate it happening before General Conference 2016, but who knows maybe everyone waits to see what happens in Portland? But probably not. As far as the overseas partners are concerned, I see it more as an aligning of the theologically like minded. The Anglicans made all the mistakes up front, so maybe the UMC can avoid them in our own parting.
Drew’s fourth question:
4. Will you itinerate? Many of the 60+ threatening schism have practically existed outside of the itinerant system, which leaves me wondering if you will move from a connectional polity to a congregationalist polity. Of course, even in our current system, large churches are often able to function like they are within a congregationalist/call system.
Again, I would think that if schism actually happens then all organizational options would be on the table for discussion. However, this particular question seems to be more a statement of anti-large church bias than an actual, honest, question.
Drew’s fifth question:
5. What about female clergy? The strict biblicism embraced by many of you about human sexuality could easily lend itself to moving the clock back on women’s ordination and leadership (especially since so many, if not all, of the leaders of this movement are men). Wesley and his ecclesial progeny were among the first to recognize the value of women in the pulpit, and it would be a shame to see this lost in a schism.
I see this question as an attempt to link the two issues, and for most of us with more traditional viewpoints on sexuality, it would be inaccurate to link them. I would also point out that there are many female leaders within the more traditional movements of the UMC: Karen Booth, Wendy Deichmann, Joy Moore, Carolyn Moore, Kimberly Reisman, and many more. I agree that it would be a shame to see this lost in a schism, and I for one would not join any new movement that didn’t value women in the preaching and leadership role.
Drew’s sixth question:
6. Has it already started? The so-called Wesleyan Covenant Network sounds very much like the Fellowship of Presbyterians/ECO, which quickly moved from a group of like-minded Presbyterians to a new denomination stealing congregations and promising more autonomy (see #1 above).
First, I would be shocked if conversations about organizing a new movement, church, denomination, or whatever hadn’t already started. And for the record, I would be even more shocked if the leaders of the progressive movement in the UMC weren’t having the exact same kind of conversation. Now, the use of the phrase, ‘so-called’ seems to be used to call into doubt the legitimacy of the Wesleyan Covenant Network. I hope that wasn’t the intention, it’s a little patronizing. I attended the meeting this last January in Atlanta where the Wesleyan Covenant Network presented who they were and what their goals were. I think it’s fair to say that WCN was formed explicitly as an attempt to avoid schism not hasten it. It was formed to provide an organization of support for evangelicals within a denomination whose power structure (at least in the U.S.) appears to be turning against them.
Drew’s seventh question:
7. What is your end game? Unlike some, I don’t think calling your bluff is helpful. I appreciate being part of a big tent denomination, large enough for you and the Pacific Northwest and everything in between. But we need to find a way to live together. So, what do you want?
This question really troubles me. Taken just on the surface, ‘What is your end game?’ seems to be suggesting that this is all just a conspiracy, or power play, or political maneuvering, and frankly, it isn’t any of that! Not at all! And, it most certainly isn’t a bluff. I have been more in favor of finding a way to stay together than many of my evangelical colleagues, I think I share your heart for unity of the church, yet I wouldn’t dismiss this as nothing more than power politics. I would like to think that there is room for a wide variety of opinion on many things within the denomination. But I’m no longer convinced that it’s possible. The Connectional Table meeting a few weeks ago, with the online ‘dialogue on sexuality and doctrine,’ made it perfectly clear that the progressives will not tolerate any viewpoint other than their own. How can we stay together when even a bishop of the church, Minerva Carcaño, openly mocks the position of the only traditional panelist?
P.S. I am under no illusions that those threatening to pull away or withhold funds are the only (possible) schismatics in the church. It can be argued that those churches/conferences/bishops that are choosing to ignore the discipline are acting in a schismatic way as well, even if they don’t go so far as withdrawing in toto.
I think you illuminate a good point here, but perhaps we need to push it a little further. I would say that those (as you describe them) who threaten to pull away or withhold funds are not the schismatics at all, in reality, they are reactionaries. They are reacting to the schismatic activities of the disobedient churches/conferences/bishops. The schism is being caused by them. Further, threatening to pull away or withhold funds is not an activity that has been limited to one side. Both evangelical/traditionalist churches and progressive ones are engaged in the exact same behavior.
A final thought:
There is a cause and effect pattern here; the cause is the behavior of those who wish to revision our doctrine and discipline. The effect is the movement toward schism. If we wish to avoid the effect we must deal with the cause.
Thanks for asking the questions Drew. Even if I had sworn off this debate, you drew me back in…
Grace and Peace,