Call me a schismatic. That’s what I probably am, at least today.
But I’m a schismatic with a purpose, at least, and that purpose is to see the greater good.
You see, my beloved United Methodist Church is in the midst of a crisis of conscience, leadership, and confidence at the moment. One the one hand, we have the so-called “traditionalists,” who want to double-down on all the language we have in our church laws that ban “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” and the like from being actively involved in the leadership of the church. On the other hand are the so-called “progressives,” who are sometimes so wrapped up in inclusivity that they neglect to be inclusive of opinions that differ from their own. On yet another hand of this multi-limbed organism called The United Methodist Church, there are those who say, “Can’t we just all get along? Can’t we just stay united for bureaucratic purposes and allow everyone on the ground to make their own decisions?” These folks are the so-called “centrists.” These three positions are caricatures of the many shades within our spectrum of belief, thought, and practice within The UMC. But the “United” part of our name is what keeps coming up as the common theme among them all.
–How can we be “United” if we don’t all believe that the Bible is the inerrant inspired word of God (traditionlists)?
–How can we be “United” if we don’t welcome everyone to the table and are inclusive and tolerate of everyone (progressives)?
–How can we be “United” if we don’t agree to disagree on what doesn’t matter and stick to what we do agree on for the rest (centrists)?
But the thing that gets lost in all of this talk of being “United” is that we’ve placed such a premium on everyone being on board that we’ve paralyzed ourselves and we can’t move for get anything done. We’ve sacrificed a lot on the altar of being “United,” and I think it’s time we stop doing that.
So here’s my proposal. It’s a painful one, but it’s what I deeply believe we need right now:
- We split. Everyone splits. No one gets to “keep” the denomination and declare themselves the winners. The United Methodist Church as we know it ceases to exist, and we all agree not to use that name, except for historical purposes (e.g. “Formerly part of The United Methodist Church.”) It’s just a name, and it’s only 50 years old. The name “Methodist” is over 300 years old, and the name “Christian” is centuries older than that. Let’s put things in perspective and just let the name die.
- We split evenly. No one gets to take all the riches (and that’s what we’re really fighting over, IMHO). No one gets to have the agencies–most of which have been positioning themselves to become independent for years (WesPath? Discipleship Ministries? Anyone?)
- We agree to stop trying to hurt each other. In whatever forms our new connections or denominations take, we will leave the others alone. We will not sue for the rights to be called “Methodists,” and we will not backbite against one another. We will simply leave each other alone.
- We agree to get on with the work of the church. In one church, that will mean going to Pride parades and doing social justice work in inner city slums. In another, that will mean holding revival meetings and doing spiritual warfare against the devil. In another, that will mean quietly working as volunteers at the local school, teaching reading to kids who are a grade level behind their peers. Whatever form ministry takes in our various denominations or connections, they will be authentic to who we all are, and will encompass the broadest swath of the Wesleyan/Methodist movement possible. And we’ll be able to put more resources behind all those efforts, because we won’t be spending them on propping up a system that was created in the 19th century.
- We agree that we may come back together some day. I can guarantee you that the day after the Wesleyan Covenant Association becomes a new denomination (and make no mistake, I think that’s what they’re setting themselves up to do), a child will be born to prominent WCA members, and that child will grow up to realize that he/she is on the LGBTQ spectrum. And the cycle will begin again. And, I believe that the day after the Progressive Methodist denomination (whatever it may be called) is created, biblical scholars within that tradition will finally be able to say, “Hey, folks, it’s time we took our biblical studies more seriously, and look at what the Bible really says,” and that conversation will start up all over again. We will continue to grow and expand and eventually in a hundred years or so, we’ll look so much like each other that we’ll come back together and re-unite as the New United Methodist Church.
- Or, denominations won’t exist that much longer and all of this will be a moot point. As Phyllis Tickle so wisely pointed out, every 500 years or so, the church goes through a giant rummage sale, and some things get let go, and new things get taken on. We are in one of those eras of reform, and it may be time to shed the Church of the divisions of denominations. Perhaps the future of Methodism is not as a church but as a movement again–agile and close to the ground, able to respond and adapt quickly to changing circumstances. Perhaps what will save us in the end will be our ability to let go of the labels and structures we’ve used to define ourselves for so long, and to embrace a new way of being the body of Christ in the world.
I say, come sweet death. Let The United Methodist Church be torn to the ground. Burn up our passions in the all-consuming fire of the Holy Spirit, and let us be freed for the Resurrection that will surely come. It’s time to split, and it’s time to see that as a good thing for everyone involved.
That’s just my two cents. Take it or leave it, but I’ve said it.