7 Questions for the Potential #UMC Schismatics

Broken eggshell courtesy of dreamstime


1.  Is it about holiness or power?  If it is about holiness, there are existing Wesleyan communities that will share your core theological convictions and perspectives about human sexuality.  If it is about power, you will elect to go your own way.  If it is about being true Wesleyans and holding unflinchingly to traditionalist views of marriage, the Church of the Nazarene, Wesleyan Church, or other bodies would be happy to have you.  Why not strengthen an existing communion instead of adding to the brokenness of the Body of Christ?

2.  Will you have bishops?  I would note that, even if you do not like the historic episcopal office, you have authoritative voices among you which function like the historic episcopos: voices that you rally around, that provide unity and vision for your movement.  Which is to say: you may not care for the current slate of UMC bishops, but it is difficult to escape to need for leadership by whatever name.

3.  When will you have your Jerry Maguire moment? (“Who’s going with me?“)  Will you be content to leave on your own, or will you attempt do divide the UMC from some of its overseas partners, as has happened frequently in the Anglican world?  To put it another way, how many eggs do you want to break to make your new omelet?

4.  Will you itinerate? Many of the 60+ threatening schism have practically existed outside of the itinerant system, which leaves me wondering if you will move from a connectional polity to a congregationalist polity.  Of course, even in our current system, large churches are often able to function like they are within a congregationalist/call system.

5.  What about female clergy? The strict biblicism embraced by many of you about human sexuality could easily lend itself to moving the clock back on women’s ordination and leadership (especially since so many, if not all, of the leaders of this movement are men).  Wesley and his ecclesial progeny were among the first to recognize the value of women in the pulpit, and it would be a shame to see this lost in a schism.

6.  Has it already started? The so-called Wesleyan Covenant Network sounds very much like the Fellowship of Presbyterians/ECO, which quickly moved from a group of like-minded Presbyterians to a new denomination stealing congregations and promising more autonomy (see #1 above).

7. What is your end game?  Unlike some, I don’t think calling your bluff is helpful.  I appreciate being part of a big tent denomination, large enough for you and the Pacific Northwest and everything in between.  But we need to find a way to live together.  So, what do you want?

P.S. I am under no illusions that those threatening to pull away or withhold funds are the only (possible) schismatics in the church.  It can be argued that those churches/conferences/bishops that are choosing to ignore the discipline are acting in a schismatic way as well, even if they don’t go so far as withdrawing in toto.

47 thoughts on “7 Questions for the Potential #UMC Schismatics”

  1. The real question is what will the “revisionists” do when they lose in Portland? Unfortunately, I doubt there will be calm acceptance of the majority verdict. That certainly wasn’t the case in Tampa.

    1. I don’t like to think in terms of winning and losing. In that sense, we are too wedded to a democratic process that lends itself to that kind of thinking – but I’m not sure that’s how the Body of Christ functions best.

  2. I’m not sure what you mean by the tone of this article Drew – are you addressing someone in particular (because it sounds rather like you are accusing all traditionalists of therefore being schismatic, and I would argue it is quite the reverse)? For those many of us who hold traditionalist views on sexuality, the Wesleyan church that teaches these views that we want to be a part of is none other than The United Methodist Church (which does have bishops, etc.). We simply want our clergy and churches to abide by the promises and oaths that they have made, and not to make any promises that they don’t intend to keep – that’s a part of holiness too.

    1. Daniel, by “schismatics” here I mean those who are threatening to break away from the denomination. I concur with the desire for churches and clergy to abide by the covenant.

      1. The so-called “schismatics” are none other than those who hold to the long-held views and standards of the UMC. Why don’t you encourage those who wish to change the traditional views (i.e. those who favor the full acceptance of homosexuality and same-sex marriage) of the UMC to find other churches more accommodating to their preferences. Why is it that those who hold to traditional beliefs (i.e. “Biblical”) must fight to maintain the stance of our Church? Why do those who wish to discard centuries of teaching feel it necessary to force all others to not only accept their beliefs, but to fully embrace them? Perhaps the “schismatics” are growing weary of this battle, and are pursuing the logical conclusion that comes with knowing their “opponents” will never be satisfied until all “United Methodists” fully embrace their views. In other words, they aren’t leaving the UMC. The UMC is leaving them.

  3. Wow! So if one objects to the intentions of those who disagree with current United Methodist theology and doctrine that person is about power and not holiness? If so, Are you saying that those who are destroying the unity of the body by their disobedience to the Discipline are holy and lack the desire for power?
    Also, since when is seeking to unite like minded congregations, congregations who hold to current United Methodist Church theology and doctrine, stealing? Many conservatives ( lack of a better word, believe everyone understands the reference) believe that the liberals are doing the stealing.
    What happens to conservative pastors and congregations when the left takes control of GC. Will liberals be understanding, liberal, and generous in their dealings with pastors and congregations who because of their best reading of scripture cannot in good conscience officiate, take part in, or host a marriage between homosexuals. Or should they leave the denomination that has nurtured and guided their faith walk because others decided to change the doctrine and theology.
    What about those of us stuck in the middle? Are we not holy and powerless?

    1. Tony, I may not have caught everything but I’ll try to respond to as much as I can.
      -I think the power question is important because it seems to me that leaders of the schismatics stand to gain the most in a schism. Joining existing, conservative Wesleyan bodies would show that it really is about the Bible/traditional marriage and not a power grab.
      -I was pretty clear in the P.S. that those in disobedience are also acting in a schismatic way.
      -I would hope that we would always be generous to our enemies, whatever side they are on. I think Hamilton raised this conference in 2012 to the conservatives: “Treat us the way you would want to be treated when and if this changes.”
      -Those of us stuck in the middle are neither (fully) holy nor (completely) powerless.

      Thanks for stopping by, Tony. Look forward to some lively discussion at Lake J this year!

  4. I’ve been wondering the same thing. What happens after General Conference, where any calls for dividing the denomination or changing the language of the Discipline will most likely to be voted down? Will progressives leave, unwilling to remain in a church that they see as discriminatory? Will conservatives leave, unwilling to remain in a church where some bishops will not enforce the Discipline? Are folks in either group willing to leave behind their buildings and pensions? Or will we stagger on together, fighting about the same thing for another 4 years? Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your point of view), our polity makes schism very difficult.

  5. Ummm … aren’t the “schismatics already a part of a Wesleyan religious body that embraces their understanding of human sexuality?

      1. Of course. I agree with your point on itineracy, btw. Infant baptism, I suspect, is another sticking point among some of the 60.

        But I don’t think your point about holiness vs. power is on target. You can want to remain Methodist and identify yourself as Methodist without it being about power.

  6. Let me skip right to your final question. What I want is our leaders to enforce the BOD. That is it. Is that asking too much?

  7. Drew, you’ve asked 7 questions while I have asked only one and have yet to get a response!

    Do you affirm our church’s consistent position that homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching?

    1. You know, Chad. It really wouldn’t surprise me if at your church, this one question was the only question you asked of potential members.

      1. To be honest, the topic hasn’t been mentioned once by me in my church. And it wouldn’t matter to me if they were. Sin is sin.
        It does matter to me though that our pastors and church leaders won’t answer that question nor seem to care.

      2. So there’s a real disconnect then between Chad the single-issue blogger and Chad the pastor. That’s actually good to hear.

  8. Drew,

    If your PS is to be taken at face value, why have you not written 7 questions to those who are acting schismatically by disobeying their vows of Ordination and consecration as Bishops?

    1. There’s only so much time in the day, Mike! If you watch the recent NYAC dialogue of which I was a part, I was pretty insistent about the need for obedience to the covenant. Watch if you don’t believe me!

  9. Great questions. FWIW, most of the conservative schismatic Methodists I know would see #5 as a non sequitur. They might be complementarian in many ways, but just restrict this understanding to roles in marriage. Clerical matters seem to be on a different plane for them. I’ve hear all sorts of responses when pressing further, from a more egalitarian Galatians 3:28 grounding to pragmatic need (i.e. The church *needs*) pastors.
    …then again, I might just know some moderate-conservative schismatic Methodists. Boy, that’s a mouthful.

  10. RE: #5 I’m an evangelical clergywoman actively involved in the renewal movements. I’ve personally had this conversation with many key leaders including many who have been identified as part of the 60 you mentioned. I fully believe that clergywomen would be embraced in any successor denomination formed if evangelicals are forced out of the UMC by progressives and/or feel they have no choice to leave as a matter of conscience. I believe this would extend to all levels of clergy leadership including senior pastor, church planter, etc. So if that makes anyone sleep better at night…

    1. That’s a good thing, Beth Ann. It should still be troubling that most of the leaders are men in large churches, when there is still somewhat of a “stained glass ceiling” in effect for women in ministry. Would an evangelical breakaway denomination be a better or worse place for women in ministry?

      1. I’m not sure. Regardless of what happens with the UMC, I see an emergence of Evangelical women doing great things for the Kingdom of God. I’m excited to see my seminary classmate Jessica LaGrone becoming Dean of the Chapel at ATS. My friend and Indiana colleague Kim Reisman is a real roll model. And Carolyn Moore rocks. At Wesleyan Covenant Network seeing mentoring emerge for female church planters was answered prayer.

  11. In my previous post I should also have mentioned my awesome African American sister Janice Gilbert who serves with me on the GN Board. She rocks too! Mighty woman of God.

    I’m not minimizing the challenges faced by clergywomen. I’ve been in ministry 15 years and still find that I’m climbing uphill at times. But ultimately I think evangelical women will ultimately be more successful at breaking through the stained glass ceiling (in the UMC or any successor denomination) than some of our more liberal sisters for several reasons including:
    1) Jesus said “Lift me up and I will draw people”. Evangelicals in general are highly committed to lifting up Jesus as Son, Savior, and Lord. High commitment faith is what appeals to this generation, not watered down faith.
    2) They will emphasize the person and power of the Holy Spirit and genuinely believe in the supernatural. Many evangelical clergywomen are powerful prayer warriors.
    3) They have deep sense of call and commitment. Evangelical women don’t enter ministry lightly; they usually wrestle with call/Scripture for a long time. They ultimately enter ministry because they strongly believe eternal destinies are on the line. It makes them willing to do whatever it takes. They are wiling to sacrifice greatly to be in ministry. This is a necessary characteristic to see ministry fruit.
    4) They are less likely to be willing to be diverted into serving in extension ministries/cabinet/academia because they want to be on the front lines leading people to Jesus. One of the key reasons that the stained glass ceiling exists is that women have tended to get pulled aside for these kinds of rolls rather than staying long term in a local church to grow it. A lot of progressive clergywomen are also drawn to non-parish ministries. They make great contributions in social justice areas, etc. (If you look closely a large percentage of those 60 churches are served by men were either planted them or led them in huge growth. Evangelicals have long said, “If you want to serve a large church, grow one”. Evangelical women are more wired to do that than liberal clergywomen.)

    Disclaimer–these are my 2 cents. I’m not trying to diss progressive women. Just sharing some observations from my perspective. Blessings

  12. I am wondering if there are any statistics out there about how many in the U M C, both lay and clergy are in the middle and feel like they would not be at home at either end of the schism. I suspect the Middle is the more silent majority.
    Jim Glass

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