Reports of a proposed split in the United Methodist Church
Today, the Washington Post published an article entitled: “United Methodist Church is expected to split over gay marriage, fracturing the nation’s third-largest denomination.” The reporter went on to say, “Leaders of the church announced they had agreed to spin off a ‘traditionalist Methodist’ denomination, which would continue to oppose same-sex marriage and to refuse ordination to LGBT clergy. The remaining portion of the United Methodist Church would permit same-sex marriage and LGBT clergy for the first time in its history.”
Words matter, and, in the case of the Post’s headline, paint a different picture than what has actually happened. For the record, a committee of bishops and church leaders from the global community have put together a proposal to be submitted for consideration at the General Conference in May 2020. This proposal, like several others, is intended to address the ongoing impasses within the church over homosexuality and its place within the church regarding marriage and ordination. The proposal is part of a statement entitled “Protocol of Reconciliation & Grace Through Separation” and represents various perspectives and a negotiated means of moving forward. Nothing in the proposal is finalized, and nothing has been decided as to what will happen in May.
Bishop Hope Morgan Ward offered some clarity today on the reporting of this news: The proposal is the outcome of a skillfully mediated process in which these leaders came to a unanimous sense of possibility for our future. The proposal is offered to the church in humility and hope… Styled by some media as a split, all the participants understand this to be a continuity of the UMC with provisions for separation for those who desire to do so. As the year unfolds, there will be continued discussion and discernment relative to this proposal across the church as we move toward the General Conference in May. General Conference is the place where any decision will be made.
Unfortunately, when someone outside the church writes about polity within the church, their reporting can have some inaccuracies that change the story. I’m not suggesting any intentional spin one way or another by the Washington Post on this story. The newspaper is simply reporting on what they feel is important news as it affects the third largest denomination in the United States.
As has been reported by the United Methodist News Service, this proposal is, in fact, a proposal, which will be further fleshed out, discussed, and modified before a vote can even be taken by the General Conference.
So, all that being said, this item will be in the news, and has already taken on a life of its own on social media. People with strong opinions on this proposal and the future of the United Methodist Church will, in some cases, vehemently express those opinions. One can too easily react to these opinions with words that can hurt or cause further division, or one can respond in deep theological thought and prayer. Let us remember the words of James: “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires” (James 1:19).
I like what Bishop Paul Leeland of the Western North Carolina Conference wrote earlier today in response to this proposal: “Reflect rather than react. Be prayerful for the church. Remain objective. Since this is a negotiated proposal everyone is not entirely satisfied with the outcome, yet the denomination needs to look for the best solution to address its current impasse...
“The primary question for me is how do we Glorify God and love others in our decisions? How can we be open to those who interpret and understand scripture differently as we worship God and serve neighbors while traveling along different paths of faithfulness?
“There will be some who welcome this proposal. There will be others who are resistant to the proposal. It is always hurtful to me to separate in order to be The United Methodist Church. Let’s be in prayer, slow down, and give space for the Holy Spirit to guide the church. Again, this is a proposal. Now we trust the General Conference to do its work. I refuse to give up on the One who is reconciling all things to himself, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross (Col. 1:20).“
When I saw how quickly this story flew out of the gates today, I felt it wise to address it before the St. Peter’s family. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me, your pastor.
There are GREAT days ahead for St. Peter’s, and for the United Methodist Church. How do I know this? For one thing, this church has shown me that nothing – not even something like cancer – can stand in the way of Christ’s Kingdom when the people are dedicated to His love and Lordship!
I love and cherish you all.