Apr  2014 25
Must We Separate?

We United Methodists seem to be teeing up to split the church, as seen in a recent Christian Century article. A group of pastors, representing a “conservative” voice in the church, issued a press release in response to clergy and even bishops acting outside the boundaries of the clergy covenant.   

The “issue,” or cluster of issues, as these pastors see it, is disobeying the clergy covenant and disobedience to the will of God as expressed in the scriptures. The offending action is United Methodist clergy participating in holy unions, covenant ceremonies and marriages of same-sex couples. I am reading and hearing about United Methodists, and know at least a few, who are tired of fighting over the rightful places and roles of LGBTQ persons in our church and who wish for, in the words used in a recent General Conference, “amicable separation.”

Personally, I think our United Methodist stance is wrong. Thus far, I count myself among “the loyal opposition” to our Disciplinary stances on homosexuality and same sex marriage. However, I am one who does not want to separate. Recalling an episode from our own history, I fear we may experience many unintended consequences.

The Methodist Episcopal Church (MEC) split into North and South in 1844. Consider:

  • The year before the big split, the Wesleyan Church left the MEC. The Wesleyans represented the abolitionist element of the MEC. When “the left” left, the center became the new left, causing political dynamics to change radically.
  • After 1844, the Northern church pastors were angry at what they thought the General Conference delegates gave away to the South. Consequently, the North and South fought over the publishing house (the North wanted to keep the whole of it). The issue was settled in the South’s favor at the U.S. Supreme Court.
  • The North considered the South an apostate church. The South, in the Palmyra Manifesto after the war, said the North had engaged in the “political prostitution of the pulpit.”
  • It took until 1939 for North and South to re-unite (and then only with the structural racism of creating a Central Jurisdiction). Why? Many reasons, not the least of which is the entire generation who divorced each other needed to die before any reconciliation was possible.

Today, both sides already think the other is not being faithful to God. The conservative side charges those who disagree with them as holding a heretical view of scripture, and those who act out their disagreement are engaging in a type of treason or rebellion. Amicable separation? God help us.

We have 13 seminaries, billions in pension funds, tens of millions invested in a publishing house, endowments rooted in general agencies, and affiliations with many colleges and hospitals. We also have billions and billions in property housing congregations, only some of which will be of one mind on which direction they’d like to go, and the name, logo, brand and claims to history to consider. How will all of these be divided?

Surely, we--The United Methodist Church--have taken a great deal of time, spent a huge amount of money and energy, and caused grief upon grief as we've painted ourselves into what may be a corner. I pray there is yet another way that does not lead to the biggest split in U.S. church history since we presaged the Civil War by splitting in 1844.

Browse more posts by: Gary Peluso-Verdend, Phillips Faculty
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