Better Together: Why the UMC Should Also #VoteNo

“…making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Eph. 4:13, NRSV)

As I write this, the BBC and other outlets are projecting that Scotland will remain, as it has for three centuries, part of the United Kingdom.  The St. Andrew’s Cross will stay within the Union Jack.  Though long and sometimes bitter, the fight is over and the Scots chose union over division.  Can the UMC do the same?

There are parallels.  A union of different regions, dialects, and ideologies attempting to hold together despite serious differences; a disconnect between the resources provided by certain regions and their influence in the rest of the body politic;  a variety of promises made by those pushing for independence, the veracity of whose claims is spurious at best.  On the whole, the question is essentially the same: can a bunch of different kinds of people learn to live well together, or will they choose the easy option: autonomy?

Like the United Kingdom, the United Methodist Church is “better together.”  Yes, there are grave challenges that must be faced.  Much akin to the situation of the Scots, there exists a variety of groups within the big tent of the UMC whose particular values and languages make independence a tempting case.  But the easy thing and the right thing are rarely the same.

The Scots have voted to keep the ‘united’ in United Kingdom.  Hopefully the time and effort put in to pursuing independence will lead to conversation and reforms that will aid the Scottish residents in feeling more valued by their countrymen and more respected as a cultural and political body.  The hard choice may well pay off.

Back to the church: schism is not hard, it’s easy – whether it is of the “amicable” variety or not.  There is nothing particularly interesting or remarkable in entropy, destruction, and tearing down.  It’s as easy as gravity.

But unity, despite the odds and genuine differences, despite the barriers in language, history, culture?  That’s an adventure.  That’s “advanced citizenship,” as Michael Douglas’ President Shepherd once put it.  That’s unity-as-gift, gratefully received and hard fought to keep.  But the juice is worth the squeeze.

That’s the path the Scottish people have chosen.  Will we be so wise as 2016 approaches?

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6 thoughts on “Better Together: Why the UMC Should Also #VoteNo”

  1. Are we really better together? What fruit points to that being true in your experience? Wanting this to be true doesn’t automatically make it a reality. In America the UMC has dropped from 11.8 million to 7.3 million members during the same time frame the US population has grown from 200 million to 317 million citizens. I’m not saying we aren’t “better together;” rather I’m challenging you to identify why you believe this. What would be lost if we didn’t stay together?

    1. Jamie, thanks for the question. Much like the claims of those who want Scottish independence, I believe the reports of those who say we would be more fruitful after a schism are greatly exaggerated. I don’t believe any benefits would outweigh the problematic nature going of going against the clear will of Christ (John 17) for the unity of his followers. We should be working towards greater unity, not less.

      1. Please answer Jamie’s question, Drew. In what ways, specifically, are we better together? Saying those who want to splint are wrong in their estimation of the benefits of doing so is not an answer to the very simple, very direct question. “We are better together because we will not be as good apart as some think” is a non-sequitur.

      2. Staying together in the midst of serious disagreement is an excellent witness to a world fraught with strife and division. Moreover, our shared ministries and missions such as UMCOR and UMVIM, our ecumenical efforts, are all better accomplished through a worldwide denomination than two or more regional bodies.

  2. If I can chime in too, I agree with Drew (great post!), and would answer Jamie Westlake as follows:

    Firstly, I think “separate vs. together” is much the wrong question. We are called to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, and we are called to Christian unity. We are ecumenically-inclined. Wouldn’t the several splinters still be in communion via World Methodist Council? We tolerate theological diversity there already as well as at our UMC General Conference. So why not continue in our diversity (perhaps we need to rekindle our tolerance of it). We shouldn’t calculate an edge for “separate vs together” but rather we should celebrate all that we have in common. Wesleyan/Methodism is the most complete vision and discipline for the Christian life in my view, and I think UMCers on both left and right agree on this point.

    Secondly, since you asked “are we really better together?” let me answer directly in four points: (1) Personally: My faith has been much informed and enriched by points of view all across the theological spectrum that exists in today’s UMC. I’d be a weaker Christian if not for that. (2) Family: My extended family benefits in familial unity by sharing a big tent UMC. We range from conservative/traditional/evangelical to progressive/liberal and span various annual conferences and jurisdictions on both sides of Mason Dixon line. We’d not all fit in SBC or UCC, but we all fit in UMC. Kids grow up and move across the US, so it is good to have a UMC home in all parts of the country. Kids also grow up and mature, and for some they move from conservative to progressive and others move from progressive to conservative. A big tent UMC nurtures all and can remain home for all. (3) Globally: Imagine No Malaria was a task too big for a smaller denomination. And it is a social justice mission that many church liberals (looking around my part of Minneapolis as an example) got behind more so than they would have a traditional conversion mission project, and yet it would not have found good distribution in Africa were it not for members (now I’m thinking of conservatives in out-state Minnesota but also strong examples in southern UN) who previously invested in church building / soul-saving work in Africa. Success of INM owes to UMCers of all stripes. And (4) Conceptually: The Wesleyan vision embraces both personal holiness and social holiness. Left to their own devices, the two ends-of-our-spectrum tend to focus on one of those two at the expense of the other. Remaining in communion together helps to keep us all focused on the balance of the two imperatives.

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