Good News for the Church
Monday, January 6, 2020
Those of you who read my articles in the “Spartanburg Herald Journal” or who listen to my sermons know that I usually try to stir the pot or “trouble the waters.” In this article I want to offer just the opposite; objective analysis and peace filled reconciliation.
I hope you read the excellent article on the front page of Friday’s “Spartanburg Herald Journal” concerning the probable split of the United Methodist Church at May’s General Conference. It describes the plan that was negotiated by an expert mediator that has been approved by leaders on both sides of LGBT issues in the U.M.C. If you have not read the article I am simply going to quote its most salient sentences:
- The United Methodist Church is expected to split into two denominations in an attempt to end a years-long, contentious fight over same-sex marriage, church leaders announced Friday. The historic schism would divide the nation’s third-largest religious denomination.
- Leaders of the church said 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, while allowing the remaining portion of the United Methodist Church to permit same-sex marriage and LGBT clergy for the first time in its history.
- The plan would need to be approved in May at the denomination’s worldwide conference.
- The agreement pledges $25 million to the new “traditionalist” denomination, which will break away from the United Methodist Church.
- Any local church that wants to join the new conservative denomination would have to conduct a vote within a specified time frame, the announcement said. A church would not need to vote to remain United Methodist. Churches that vote to leave could take certain assets with them, including their local church buildings in some cases.
- An additional $2 million would go to any other new denomination that wishes to split from the church.
- American Protestants are generally divided into three theological and cultural camps: evangelical churches, which almost unanimously oppose same-sex marriage and view gay conduct as sinful based on their reading of the Bible; historically African American denominations, which are more divided on the issue; and mainline Protestant churches, which tend to be both theologically and politically more liberal.
- Many mainline denominations, including the Episcopal Church, Presbyterian Church (USA), Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, United Church of Christ and others, already perform gay marriages and appoint gay clergy. But the United Methodist Church, the nation’s largest mainline denomination and the third largest denomination of any faith in America, has fought bitterly over the issue.
A strength of the plan is its simplicity. If a church is against same sex marriage and the ordination of LGBT people then it can simply vote to leave and take with it all of its property and money. Those who leave may form a new denomination and the United Methodist Church will give the new denomination 25 million dollars. Churches that do not leave will constitute the United Methodist Church which will retain all the denominations’ property, money, employees and mission endeavors.
Will everyone be happy? Of course not. Some left wing idealogues or some biblical literalists on the right, may try to sabotage the plan and continue the “winner take all” struggle. I hope not.
This plan will allow for unified goals and mission in both of the new denominations. While ethnic and gender diversity is a strength for any organization, diversity in primary mission is a weakness. IBM and the Marine Corps recruit from a diverse group of people. Once in the organization they are taught and expected to fulfill one mission and one set of goals. Hopefully each of these two denominations, each with its own self-defined mission will be able to work more effectively.
This plan allows us to return to living a life of love and respect within our community of faith. Peace and love within the covenant community family allows for the harmony for which Christ called.
This so called split is also an admission of reality, a real sign of maturity. A leading evangelical conservative clergy wrote:
“We are two denominations held together by a pension program.”
The majority of United Methodists in the United States are mainline Protestants. The churches that will be leaving are not. They are Conservative/Evangelical Protestants. These are, as the article quoted above implies, radically different versions of Christianity. To dramatically oversimplify; Mainline Protestants have as their authority the “living tradition” found in scripture, tradition, reason and experience. Conservative /Evangelicals appeal to scripture alone as their authority. Mainline Protestants are significantly more progressive in social issues, politics and theology. Conservative and evangelicals focus on a version of the gospel that emphasizes personal conversion that they find in the Gospel of John and the letters of Paul. Mainline Protestants focus on the gospel found in the teachings of Jesus in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and especially Luke. Personal conversion is for the ultimate purpose of the “transformation of the world.” No matter which of these theologies is closer to the will of God, they are; at this time, incompatible!
I hope, that no matter what your religion, you will pray that the people of the nation’s largest Mainline Protestant denomination will now move toward peace and effectiveness.
Tom Norrell, Ph.D.
Pastor of Central United Methodist Church
Spartanburg, South Carolina