The Rev. James Howell wrote an interesting blog post about the harrowing future that might be facing clergy and congregations in the United Methodist Church if we split apart.
He raises several interesting points, but one section of his post in particular grabbed my attention. In discussing the position of clergy in his conference if we sundered into two denominations, Howell wrote:
We would also have a rash of mismatched clergy and congregations. If congregations get to choose which denomination to go with, I’d imagine the clergy would get to pick too. At least in my part of the world, and I suspect all across the United States, on average the clergy are far more progressive than their congregations. In Western North Carolina, for instance, out of 1,000 clergy I’d estimate at least 500 would choose the new progressive institution; but no more than a few dozen churches would do the same. Where would the clergy work? And who would pastor the conservative churches?
Among those who observe clergy, it has long been remarked that clergy are often more liberal than their congregations in the United Methodist Church. Howell is merely speculating about some of the numbers. What is interesting in his numbers is the assertion that no more than a few dozen churches in his entire conference would join a progressive or liberal denomination while hundreds — about half — of its clergy would.
For my part, I do not know where I would land in the fall out of a broken church. I am comforted to know, however, that theologically, at least, I do not have the struggles of so many of my colleagues. When I teach and preach the doctrine and discipline of the United Methodist Church and try to articulate the heart of Wesleyan theology, I do not have to hide my true theological beliefs or couch them in ways that disguise the fact that I secretly consider the faith of my church members somehow backward — or whatever the opposite of progressive is. I am too Democratic for many of the Republicans in my churches and too much a fan of Indiana University for the Purdue Boilermaker fans in my church, but I can pray for healing without crossing my fingers, speak of the resurrection without resorting to metaphors, warn of the devil’s works without feeling sheepish, and wrestle with holiness without trying to dispense with holiness itself. I am grateful for that.