If you have not already read my brief Tiding’s article, “The United Methodist Church: A Way Forward,” please do so before continuing.
In February, our denomination will hold a special-called general conference to decide how to move forward in regard to the ordination and marriage of self-avowed practicing homosexuals within The United Methodist Church. The official group responsible for guiding us forward has proposed three possible plans (see the previous Tidings for a brief description of each plan). The Council of Bishops has gotten behind the “One Church Plan,” and we’ll see if other plans are brought to the table for discussion and final vote in February.
I mentioned in my previous back-page that the Council of Bishops has a very high commitment to maintaining denominational unity. It may be, however, that the type of unity they’re trying to maintain is all but gone. It could easily be argued that this one issue has divided our denomination to the point that no matter what the General Conference decides, a split is inevitable. It may not happen quickly, but quite a number of prophetic voices are telling us the writing is on the wall.
For the most part, I’m an optimist who sees the glass half-full, and almost never agree when others say the sky is falling. However, in this case I have to say that I’m leaning in the direction of agreeing with those who say a split is inevitable. From my vantage point, it seems to me that we’re at a place where any action we take will leave too many people too upset to keep a union. If we vote to keep the status quo, the voices calling for change will grow even louder. If we vote to give local churches and/or annual conferences the authority to do as they wish, the voices of tradition will cry foul. In either case, I think there will be enough people who are unhappy with the direction the church has chosen to go in that they will either leave or they will call for the others to leave. Either way, I’m afraid we will split.
For many years we’ve been agreeing to disagree. Or as someone else has put it, we’ve been disagreeing agreeably. The problem is, despite our official position (as stated in the Book of Discipline), many disagree so strongly that they are proactively doing things which are prohibited by our constitution. Some have been brought up on charges using our denominational “legal” system, the Judicial Council; others have not been charged. Therein lies one of the problems—we don’t have a clear way of responding when people consciously dissent.
I don’t know when it will happen, but I believe there will likely come a day when Adrian First UMC will have to make a denominational decision for itself, when we will have to decide with which branch of our denomination we will connect. Fortunately, God is bigger than our denomination. Therefore, all hope is not lost. This is what I’d like to focus on in my next back-page article.