No, not me! I’m thinking about the possible splitting up of the United Methodist Church that appears may be coming sometime in the relatively near future. I’ve been busy reading the discussions going on between clergy on both sides of the aisle, and more and more it seems to be a hopeless situation. Neither side is seeing any real possibility of ever coming together and agreeing. We are two churches, two faiths, and never the twain shall meet. The disagreements have taken the form, for the past 40 years, of whether or not homosexuality is a sin; and whether or not those who wear the label “homosexual” should be included in our church as leaders and even clergy; and whether or not so-called “gay marriage” should be supported by the church and same-sex weddings should be performed in our churches and by our clergy.
But of course the disagreements go far deeper than these issues, all the way down deep to our beliefs about the scriptures, the Holy Bible, and its authority in the lives of believers.
And so, my thoughts are naturally turning to how this process will work itself out.
It’s interesting to me that these discussions are taking place on the internet, where nearly anybody can read them, yet only a relatively few actually are. Go into just about any UMC on a given Sunday, and while you will find many people who are aware there is disagreement within the church on the subject, you will find virtually no one who has any idea the church could be so close to actually splitting apart. The people in the pews go to church on Sunday, go to Wednesday evening suppers and activities, participate in youth ministries, give their tithes and offerings to the local church to be used as is seen fit, including apportionments which are sent to the Annual Conference and are used to advance the political agenda of the “leadership” of the church without the knowledge of the people in the pews.
When the time comes, the church won’t even be aware of what has been happening within the church. But the clergy, the lay leadership, they’ll know. And they’ll understand what’s at stake.
So how do I think this will play out? Well, any such decisions would have to come from the General Conference, which meets every four years, and is scheduled to meet in 2012. I think the General Conference would go through its business, debating issues and voting, and at some point the frustration would build to a point that such a split would be proposed. I think that somebody already has the proposal drawn up and may be trying to get it on the agenda already. It may not pass the first time around. Then again, if it doesn’t pass it may not see a second time because there are people who may take things into their own hands if that happens. In that case I think the most likely scenario would be the simple split by people walking out.
But if it is resolved at the General Conference that the church be split, I think it would take the form of a vote by the individual churches. Of course, the members of the churches would have to be educated about the problem, which would probably take the form of people getting up and making speeches, obviously strongly biased. I would hope that it would be possible to give people both sides of the question, but emotions get pretty heated sometimes, and I don’t think it would happen that way if the churches are left to gather the information themselves. At any rate, the people would have to be given the information, and then the voting would have to take place.
I’m really curious about this, because I don’t know which faction would be leaving — the progressives or the orthodox. Would the fact that the vast majority of the clergy and bishops are progressive figure into this determination? Would the church then be a “progressive” church and the orthodox would be leaving? Or would it be that the orthodox have control of much of the power, i.e., the much larger southern jurisdictions and the judicial “courts” of the church, mean the orthodox would have control and the progressives would leave?
The other possibility I see is that each church would take a vote, and would go to whichever side won the vote, effectively splitting the church into two churches. Property would go to the side which won that church, simple and effective. This I think is the scenario I would hope to see. It would be the fairest to both sides and nobody would be losing any property — each church would keep its property. So instead of one church remaining and many people leaving for other denominations, leaving behind empty or near-empty churches, you would have two separate denominations instead of the silly church-within-a-church that we have now.
No, I’m not going to bow at the altar of church unity any more if it means being in unity with people whose “faith” is clearly a different faith entirely. We are of two faiths in the UMC. It’s time for the charade to end.