A while back the Western Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church passed a “Statement of Gospel Disobedience” calling on members of the UMC in the Western United States to act as if our denominational statement on Human Sexuality did not exist.
Recently, a few new reactions to that development have occurred.
My bishop, Mike Coyner, published his personal reactions to the statement. Here are his final paragraphs:
I believe that our United Methodist Church one day may modify its various statements on human sexuality. The Social Principles in our Book of Discipline are the result of many General Conferences, which means its various statements and paragraphs were written by committees – and they read like they were written by committees. There is little sense of consistency and theological structure. I believe that a future General Conference may indeed take action, first to affirm that Christians of good will are in disagreement on these issues, and second to adopt a more moderate and holistic approach to these issues in our Social Principles.
Changing our Social Principles or other parts of our Discipline is not the whole answer. As one of my colleagues has expressed it to me, “The question is not if our church will modify its stance; the question is when and howthat stance will be modified.” The how is the most important part of his statement. For the church to move forward, any modification should come in an atmosphere of prayer, theological reflection, humility, listening to God and listening to one another. The actions of the Western Jurisdiction, while understandable, do not provide a helpful way forward. Bringing together the best of our church to address these issues outside of the legislative processes of a General Conference could be the how that is needed. Even if such a process takes time, it would worth that time to come together as a church and to find a way forward together.
Bishop Mike’s posting generated a news story in the United Methodist News Service.
Jack Jackson, a faculty member a Claremont School of Theology, wrote a piece arguing that “civil disobedience” in the Western Jurisdiction would not solve our problems and urging a division of the denomination as the best way forward.
Nevertheless, out of missional necessity, and in the light of the denomination’s continued decline, it is time for a conversation to begin on an equitable split of the UMC.
Beginning the conversation acknowledges the true endgame of our current direction: division. Progressive and traditionalist visions of human sexuality are simply incompatible. Most of Protestantism recognizes this. We can argue all we want, but there is no solution to our theological quandary that offers unity, common visions of Christian mission and an ability to focus on the deep systemic issues which plague the UMC.
Methodist blogger Matt Horan disagrees with Jackson in a post on his own blog.
If we divide ourselves over this issue, we will have failed to remember the things we have in common, which are far more important than where we stand on the issue of homosexuality. It is clearly time for us to think of a way ahead that is different than lobbying for votes every four years and producing a large collection of embittered losers every time. Perhaps the United Methodist Church might explore becoming a confederation of churches that leave space for practices of ministry to emerge locally, while remaining committed together to share resources and continue our global Kingdom-building mission.
Some days breaking up looks a lot easier than staying together. Even so, I still keep advising married couples in my congregation: “I know it’s hard work to stick together, but keep at it. In the end you’ll see it was all worth it.”