A few months ago, I wrote a Monday Memo entitled “If I was thinking about joining a new denomination” (February 7, 2021). It focused on questions a pastor and local church might ask before leaving the United Methodist Church for a new traditionalist branch of the Methodist family tree. Now that we know more about that planned denomination, I have another set of questions…a 2.0 version.
- What does it mean to be the “Global Methodist Church”?
That’s the chosen name for the new church. Even though we use the term global in the current United Methodist Church, it would be more honest to say we are multi-national, since the UMC General Conference only includes the USA, the Philippines, parts of Europe and about seven countries of Africa. What about the British, Cuban, Brazilian and Costa Rican Methodists, let alone the Free Methodist, Wesleyan, Nazarene and AME denominations? The truly global Methodist movement is represented by the World Methodist Council which includes over 100 Methodist bodies. Claiming the name “Global” for a denomination which will only be a spin-off of the current UMC seems a bit presumptuous.
2. What is the underlying motivation for this new church?
At a recent Wesleyan Covenant Association gathering Dr. Timothy Tennent, President of my Alma mater Asbury Seminary, said, “You can’t found a new denomination on anger, resentment and triumphalism.” But hasn’t that been part of this movement for the past 40 years? They are sincerely trying to focus on evangelism and mission as their driving force, but the origins are still rooted in anger directed at the UMC and their attacks on the Bishops go on unabated. The theme of triumphalism runs through Dr. Tennent’s statements lifting up the GMC as the last great hope for Methodism in the world. A movement can outgrow its origins, but you can’t deny them.
3. Isn’t it still about homosexuality?
I acknowledge that behind the questions about same sex marriage and ordination of gay and lesbian clergy there are substantial questions about how we understand the Biblical mandates. But the same argument was made against racial integration and the ordination of women. And in fact, St. Paul was much more outspoken in support of slavery and women keeping quiet in church than anything related to homosexuality. Understanding the Bible is always a matter of interpretation and in Methodism we affirm the “Wesleyan Quadrilateral”: Scripture, as interpreted by tradition, reason and experience. That process has led us to reinterpret the scriptural mandates about slavery and women’s ordination, and the same should apply today.
3. What about the Order of Deacon?
The proposal for ordination in the new denomination would return to the traditional pattern of all clergy being ordained Deacon, then some going on to become Elders. 25 years ago I was deeply involved in the debates which lead to the creation of a separate Order of Deacons and in all honesty, for a time I argued for maintaining that historic tradition. But having been part of the implementation of our current orders, I would greatly regret a return to a pattern which would effectively end the Order of Deacon as a distinct order of ministry.
4. Is it time for another church schism?
I realize church schisms have happened before. Methodists split over slavery in the 1800’s, the Church of England was born out of a fight over King Henry’s wives and the Roman Catholic and Orthodox branches of the church separated in 1054 over one fine point of theological hair splitting. But in this time of incredible division when the church needs to be a voice for unity, to split over one social issue seems tragic. Though it is clear we are headed for schism, I still regret it. Inevitable as it may be, it represents our inability to, in the words of John Wesley, “think and let think” and undermines our witness in a divided world.
My vision for the church is still reflected in E. Stanley Jones’ motto for his Ashram: “Here we enter a fellowship. Sometimes we will agree to differ. Always we will commit to love and unite to serve.”