The Crisis of The United Methodist Church

Annual Conference this past summer was very different for me than it had been in previous years. I attended a few sessions. I was and am still on medical leave. I was automatically excused from attending any part of it. I attended when I could. I prayed, sang, listened, and took part as I could. I was also a witness to what could very well be a final united Annual Conference. Depending on what the General Conference does next May, our next Annual Conference could involve talk of how we will separate as a church.

I have read enough material and spoken to enough people to know the consensus is that the denomination should either dissolve or separate. What I find interesting is that few people who agree that the denomination should separate also agree that their home congregation should not dissolve or separate. It is enlightening to know that many people realize there will be pain and recriminations if congregations separate. They simply do not see pain and recrimination if the denomination does. The reason is obvious at least to me that regardless of how one views the issues on which division is based no one wants to lose their friends, the people with whom they experience a connection.

Connectionalism is the feature of United Methodist polity that has made the denomination what it is. I once worked within a denomination that was based on the “call system” of ministerial leadership. The ministers in that denomination were not really friends. They were actually rivals. If a minister announced he was leaving a certain church, many resumes and sermon tapes and videos would begin arriving the next day. The itinerant system of The UMC cut down that sense of rivalry and allowed friendships among clergy to blossom. Itineracy has problems as well. The phenomenon of the “Kitchen Cabinet” among clergy was all about envy and covetousness. Who was getting what and whether or not they should was the issue. And there is no denying that motivated the people who took part in it. Another problem of itineracy has been that congregations did not believe they were getting what they wanted in a pastor. I never heard a Pastor-Parish Committee express what they needed in a pastor. For all of its faults connectionalism works fairly well. The failure has been among those who were selfish and craved power. Human beings make up the church after all.

My experience in the last Annual Conference was very heartening though. I got to spend time with clergy members and the lay delegates that I knew. The most important discussion I had was with one colleague in particular. I was walking back to Stuart Auditorium when this person stood up. He appeared excited to see me. He stuck out his hand and said, “Brother, you keep doing what you have been doing.”

I was surprised. I knew what he was talking about. I just didn’t know he knew my situation (even though I have been open about it on social media and other places). And there we stood on the sidewalk, my reconciling ministries rainbow ribbon on my name badge while he had his WCA pin on his, and he was encouraging me to keep getting better as I recovered from my addiction. I won’t name the person here. I will never be able to forget him or his gesture.  Our differences over church polity and denominational direction did not matter. Issues surrounding “justice” and “biblical authority” and “inclusion” became words when we two beings that used words used them to support one another. He was retiring. I was encouraging him to continue serving in a new capacity. He was encouraging me to stay alive.

I said that was the most outstanding example. Other times there were examples of kind words exchanged, meeting a friend who was battling cancer, talking to a colleague and apologizing for something I did, shaking hands and hugging people I had not seen in a long while. Recently, a colleague said to me, “I have been keeping up with you and pray for you every day. I have agonized with you and celebrated with you.” My congregation, my home church, is the Annual Conference. And, like any congregation, we have times we don’t get along. Most of the time we do. And I will be sorry to lose it or any part of it.

I understand the issues that are dividing us are important. Still, I believe our biggest issue to overcome is our own self-importance. If the denomination divides, we will all require repentance for this point. I will go where my conscience requires. I will also grieve the loss of the connection.



22 thoughts on “The Crisis of The United Methodist Church

  1. Pingback: UM Fallout: A Compendium – People Need Jesus

  2. My local church has divided opinions on the issue of human sexuality that is confronting our denomination. We all love our church and we all want to stay together despite our differences. In order to prepare for a possible vote regarding where to align, we are holding unity lunches after services where we politely share our opinions in small groups. I believe every church that has a division of thought should seriously consider this procedure. We meet every few months. Perhaps we will need to meet monthly after General Conference makes its decision on a direction for the church.

  3. when they asked you to stay, did they mean forget what you are fighting for and just stay with them and their view?
    How about the heterosexual couples, do they have to proclaim their sexual life too? When did sexuality a requirement for Christianity? Let them remember the fruits of the spirit and focus on them if they ever doubt again.

    • It is a Battle of False Doctrine…which still includes the Mercy given to persons affected by the Wing Beast. It is important not to be cheapened in order to persuade a personal lifestyle that may speak to short comings. You have accepted the”Lord Jesus Christ as your personal Savior” is how you perceive Human existence. “Monogamy ” in a Woman and Man was Gods spoken choice in cleaving “Marriage” which is not a personalized-struggled outside permission as such.

      • You might have an argument if The UMC considered marriage a sacrament. We don’t. Marriage is described many ways in Scripture. However, St. Paul is the only writer that gives us anything close to one man and one woman only marriage. I can’t agree given the whole witness of Scripture that his description is a Biblical ideal. He is describing marriage as it was sanctioned and described by Greek customs and Roman law.

  4. “Still, I believe our biggest issue to overcome is our own self-importance. If the denomination divides, we will all require repentance for this point.”

    Repentance? For what inappropriate behavior or thoughts?

    If I do not accept the construct that marriage can be homosexual, or persons bi-sexual, by what theological logarithm am I compelled to repent?

    On the other hand, if clergypersons – in the case of the UMC debate – cannot abide by the Book of Discipline and would rather separate than conform, for what must they feel compelled to repent?

    Religious sects – denominations – have exercised schisms for millennium. Today, they generally live separate religious lives peacefully. No more burning at the stake.

    What is the nature of the guilt for which the separating parties, as you claim, require repentance? I see none.

    Lee D. Cary

    • We should repent for failing to realize Jesus vision of unity (John 17) and maintaining “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4). A traditionalist friend and I recently agreed that when we disagreed over big issues, that God made us brothers.

      • Yu imply that the doctrinal differences between the multiplicity of protestant denominations, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Greek Orthodox Church undercut “the unity of Spirit”? How so?

        Who defines the perimeters of “unity”? Does Churches Uniting in Christ (formerly COCU) require unanimity of doctrinal beliefs? Of course not.

        You and your Traditionalist friend “agreed that when we disagreed over big issues, that God made us brothers.” Who says otherwise? If you oppose late term abortions and your friend does not, are you “brothers concerning that issue?

        How about you and the Baptist deacon down the block. Are you not brothers in Christ? Or you and the local Church of Christs minister?

        Rev. Dr. Lee D. Cary (ret.)

  5. So, you clearly state that “doctrinal differences undercut the unity of the Church.”

    In that case, pray us, sir: What, without embellishment, alteration or qualification, constitutes the pure doctrine of the Church? And what is its source?

    L Cary

    • Going back to your earlier statement: “The doctrinal differences undercut the unity of the Church.”

      So, when the UMC fractures into, let’s say, traditional and progressive camps based on differences in interpretations related to human-sexuality, that does not represent a “doctrinal difference,” but only a difference in the interpretation of Scripture related to a narrow topical venue and its associated individual practices.

      In that case, neither “camp” faces the need for repentance since it does not involve the Apostles Creed.

      Since the UMC defines its doctrine (BoD) in the method of a representative Republic (it’s clearly not a Democracy), what legitimizes the minority opinion to demand that the majority yield to it and sanction the will of the minority? (Particularly, since the issue is focused mainly on the ordained clergy.)

      This is a difficult question for the LGBGQAI+ movement to answer since it is unwilling to voluntarily leave a Christian assembly, whose doctrine it cannot fully embrace, and form its own “denomination”. Instead, its advocates would rather disrupt the entire body through schism, rather than yield to the collective will of the majority.

      And that, sir, is the definition of self-interest-driven destruction. Pure and simple.

      L Cary

      • Here is a problem. A person or group of people can claim they possess the true doctrine and force a separation. Clearly such a group is at fault. However human relationships are not so easily defined. Protestantism is always fracturing because of this problem.
        I find that churches are filled with people that need repentance for violating the spirit of the theological virtues.
        I will also point out here that you have a contemptible attitude. It leads me to think you are prone to dismiss the weighty matters of Scripture and Tradition for a position that often gags on gnats and swallows camels.
        People who are hung up on procedures usually miss the point.

      • Why should anyone in the LBGTQAI voluntarily leave the church of their family and friends and home? It seems the church that refuses to accept them and wants them to leave is practicing the “self-serving distraction.” Love is the answer. Always. I would rather be excluded for who I include than included for who I exclude.

  6. The default position of someone who does not know how to retort to opposition to their position is often personal slander.

    You know neither me, nor my history, but have decided that I have a “contemptable attitude.” Thereby defining me as a contemptable person.

    Consider the possibility – that I had not previously considered – that it is you, sir, who is in need of repentance.

    End of discussion.

    L Cary

  7. Our church is about to begin small group discussions. I truly hope it brings us to an accommodation that does not allow for discrimination against our LGBTQAI neighbors. Regarding the “narrow topical venue“ I am a believer of in His commandment Love Your Neighbor. That includes all folks in many narrow topical venues. That narrow topical venue affects the individuals involved but their families whom are also members. How can we deny someone who may have been raised in our church but is a member of the narrow topical venue the same right to marry as any other Methodist?

  8. I’ve been watching the sturm and drang in the United Methodist Church for some time now as an outsider. Many of the articles I’ve read portray a denomination locked in a civil war. I’m sure there is some truth to that. But it’s heartening to see accounts such as yours of people on opposites of the issues besetting the denomination who still remember that they share a common faith and a real connection in the church body across those lines.

    I’m still of the opinion that your besetting issues are not resolvable. They are fundamental to your understanding of your faith and have real effects one how you live out that faith that are not reconcilable. The most Christian and charitable thing you can do as a denomination now is to recognize that and arrange an amicable separation. It seems that you are moving in that direction now, and I hope and pray that you succeed in separating well and in a way that gives God the glory. I hope you take the American Episcopal Church as an example of how not to separate. Similar circumstances unfolded in that denomination where it became clear that ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ factions within the church had become irreconcilably incompatible. That denomination’s response was not an example of Christian grace in such trying circumstances, with one party attempting to separate and the other party doing everything it could to prevent or, failing that, to inflict maximum pain on the other and drag out the separation process as long as possible. It seems the leaders of that church somehow forgot they were a church and came to think of themselves more like a big corporation or a small nation/state. I sincerely hope you all can void a similar embarrassing debacle.

    • Just like our government legislation to do this must be adopted and considered constitutional. That is a messy process. I don’t know what will be adopted. There are five different plans at this point. We have a unique structure that makes separation difficult. The bad feelings will come up when congregations make decisions. I don’t know how many pastors can guide a local church through that especially when the pastor takes a different position.

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