Take a deep breath, fellow Methodists

If I was still a local church pastor, I would tell my congregation something like this from the pulpit this morning:

This week there was a major announcement about a plan for the future of our  beloved United Methodist Church, proposing a division over the issue of homosexuality.  My first reaction is to say, “Take a deep breath, fellow Methodists“.

First, all of this needs to be turned into legislation which will go to the General Conference in May, so we have at least 5 months of discussion and debate ahead of us and whatever comes, it will take several years to work it out.

Second, we’ve been here before.  Today there are numerous Methodist and Wesleyan denominations  which were at one time part of the mainline Methodist family tree and globally there are almost 100 other Methodist denominations which have been spawned from the Methodist genes. For example, all of the Methodist churches in Latin and South America were at one time mission extensions of the American church and today they are autonomous, national churches like the Methodist Church of Cuba and the Methodist Church of Costa Rica.

In our early days in America, the African Methodist Episcopal and the AME Zion Churches were created because of inherent racism in the original Methodist Episcopal Church.  The Free Methodists and the Wesleyan Methodists broke away before the Civil War.  Denominations like the Church of the Nazarene were formed by former Methodists in order to express their own witness.

The major break was the split of 1844 when we divided north and south over the issue of slavery.  (By the way, it took six weeks in session for the General Conference to work out that one!) We remained two separate, thriving denominations for a hundred years until the 1939 merger which included a third break-away group called the Methodist Protestants. It’s interesting to note that the Methodist Protestants split over the issue of lay empowerment.  Since today most annual conferences have twice as many lay members as clergy, it looks like they won.

Our quadrennial General Conference has dealt with issues related to homosexuality since 1972, so again, I say, “Take a deep breath.”  But the issue had become so divisive that a special General Conference was called last year just to deal with it.  The action and the following fallout simply displayed how deep our differences are.  The conservative groups led by the Wesleyan Covenant Association have been preparing to leave for years if they don’t get their way and the prospects of another knock-down, drag-out conference in 2020 is not appealing to anyone.

Even though I regret it, I guess it is time once again for Methodists to acknowledge our irreconcilable  differences and to give two branches of Methodism the opportunity to move out in ministry without the on-going arm wrestling which is draining our energy. This proposal creates a path for churches, clergy and conferences to affiliate with a new, more conservative “traditionalist” group while maintaining the United Methodist Church with it’s agencies and ministries for the rest of us.  Granting the new denomination start-up funds of $25 million seems like an adequate contribution, since the United Methodist buildings in Nashville alone are worth more than that. 

I, for one, will choose to remain with the United Methodist Church in hopes of a more inclusive stance toward LGBT persons. I will miss some of my good friends and colleagues who are likely to join the new “traditionalist” denomination, but I will pray for their success as well as ours as we seek to “make disciples for Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world” in the Wesleyan spirit.

So take a deep breath, fellow Methodists.  We’ve been here before and we have a long ride ahead of us.  Hopefully it will be a journey into a more promising future for all Methodists.  And speaking of “breath”, let us believe and hope that the “breath” of God will breathe through our beloved church to birth something new, even out of the brokenness of our separation.


28 thoughts on “Take a deep breath, fellow Methodists

  1. Charles Michael Smith

    Thanks, Jack, for compiling this easy to share historical record of our earlier schisms. Bill Lawrence did a similar recounting at a meeting in our NCCUMC this fall that also helped lessen the guilt about our being unable to resolve this 48-year-old struggle amicably. I’m truly grateful to you, Jim, Ken Carter, & all the others whose labors are being rewarded in this proposal. May God guise GC to adopt some form of this.

    1. united methodist member

      why do the traditionalist have to leave? where do we go if the buildings stay with liberals?

  2. Glenn M Wagner

    Thanks Jack. I am with you. I still grieve our inability to gracefully allow for our differences of opinion. Many local churches are similarly divided on this issue so the decision about where to side as a congregation could prove equally fractious. We may have more peace after the split until the next issue arises. But we will have a less effective witness.

  3. Denver Todd

    My sister forwarded this article to me at a perfect time. I have been agonizing over this situation for the few days it has come to the forefront again in the news. As well agonizing over World events and national politics. Your article has helped me put things back in perspective, and given me a much needed balm for my soul over the state on our denomination. Thank you

    and Happy New Year

    Denver Todd
    Church of the Dunes

  4. Alice Butch

    History I knew, but needed to refresh! Thanks so much, Jack. Who knows what fire the Holy Spirit will kindle among us.

  5. msjosom

    Hi Pastor Jack: Interesting story and I am with you. I had no idea of the various ways things have changed in the past. Hope you are feeling better and better. Please tell me you are. Much love to you and your dear wife. I am so happy that I was able to visit with you last summer. Thank you for clearing things up for me. Your friend. jo somerville


  6. Peter Thoms

    The assumption is that the progressive plan will win a majority vote. The probability is that the traditional plan will continue to have the majority vote due to demographic changes in our church over the past four years. At the same time the WCA has organized and grown exponentially. I realize a conciliatory compromise proposal will be presented and if accepted may end the devise bantering and we can part in peace with the words of Laban to Jacob “May the Lord watch between (us) while we are absent one from the other “

  7. Holly Veber

    Thank you for the background but I know one principal that will hold true until Christ returns and that is that LGBTQ is not of God and He never will honor this behavior in or our of our congregations. If you want to open yourself and your churches to that kind of judgement then go right ahead. God loves all sinners, yes,but to condone this and turn your head and heart, well that’s another.

  8. Linda Malchisky

    I agree Holly…If we all followed God’s word from the bible there would be no decisions to be made. One man and one woman.

    1. Floyd Ostrom

      If the bible has been written, rewritten, over and over again by man, how can one be assured that the bible is the inerrant Word of God, as our former senior pastor repeated over and over again. The bible, as we know it, has been transcribed by numerous human scribes over many years. Is there no room for some error in interpretation here, either by mistranslation of the language, or personal opinions in their translation? We believe that when Jesus was asked what the most important Commandment was He replied that to be “to love one God and to love thy neighbor as thyself”, and neighbor means everyone. In my mind, that is the difference between what we desire in the UMC and that of the WCA. We in the UMC should not discriminate against anyone.

      1. Pastor Terri Bentley

        Thank you Dave. I was just thinking the same thing. And what do we do with all who are divorced and or remarried…….\

  9. Carolyn Thompson

    It’s confusing. You see, it’s difficult to fathom why those who support the Discipline are the ones who must leave the denomination while those who do not stay put. After all, those who want to change it should not be allowed to oust those who support the current Discipline. It’s just very backward …. not logical…. and seems quite unjust. If you cannot support what IS, you walk away from it rather than ousting those who do support what exists. Methinks those who have agreed to this and decreed this have gotten it backwards.

    1. Marti

      As I read it, it was the WCA/traditionalists who seemed to be supporting the division as proposed. That has been my question – but the WCA has been aiming toward this regardless of the outcome of the Special Conference. I think there’s something else going on?

  10. Steven Douglas

    Respectfully sir, your letter has proven what is wrong with this Methodist Church split…you and the “new Methodists” have provided no directions or references from the Bible that adhere to the Word of God. My bible does not state that a man should cleave to another man or church leadership positions can be given to homosexuals. The psalmist gladly acknowledges God’s right to issue commands and humbly accepts that all these commands are right. “I know, O Lord, that your rules are righteous,” he says (Ps. 119:75). While the world may tell us “just take a deep breath” and “just go with it because everything will be OK” which is not biblical, our Holy Bible will always tell us right from wrong and to always believe God, worship God an the word of God (Holy Bible) by faith. “Sanctify them in the truth,” Jesus said; “your word is truth” (John 17:17). There is no one, no culture, no organization, no organized church above God and the word of God, For me that is enough. In prayer, peace be with you. Steven D

  11. katie murphy

    When you are disagreeing over “giving rights” to others, are you following the commandment from Jesus to love each other? We were all created in the likeness of God.

    1. Steven Douglas

      Katie, Adhering to law and commandments of God is Love. If God didn’t love us, he would have let us run amok. He gave us guidance, laws and commandments because he loved us and wanted us to know, serve and love him. Just because I don’t agree with someone, does not mean I can’t love them. Ever have kids doing something you know was wrong? You still loved them, you wanted them to stop what they were doing, you either sought guidance or took it on yourself. My son was homeless for several months, he was able bodied, he could work but he chose to hang around the wrong people. I didn’t like it, he was an adult, all we could do was pray and we gave him to God. He knew he was in the wrong, he still did what he wanted. We continued to pray and now he’s is a responsible young man with his own family. Praise God. Later he told me he knew what he was doing was wrong, we all know God intervened. I agree we are all created in the likeness of God.

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