Several have asked me about recent news regarding a potential separation and/or split within the United Methodist Church.
For the sake of offering as full of a response as I can and ensuring that the same information is received by all, I wanted to share some initial thoughts with our entire congregation.
Since many will have not read any of the recent news, here is a quick summary of recent events within the denomination.
In February 2019 there was a special called session of General Conference to address ongoing disagreement within our global denomination around issues related to human sexuality. For those who may not know, General Conference is the main legislative body of the United Methodist Church and includes representatives from United Methodist congregations all around the world. This body regularly gathers every four years (which we refer to as a quadrennium) and May 5th-15, 2020 will be the next quadrennial gathering of this legislative body.
In the months since the called session last February, more than a dozen proposals have been announced from various groups within the denomination to move forward with some form of separation. While these groups represent differing perspectives, these proposals have been born out of the widely shared perception that the United Methodist Church in it’s current form is at an impasse regarding the questions addressed during February’s special called session.
This past week an additional proposal was announced which you can read in it’s entirety by visiting this link.
What sets this current proposal apart from others is that it includes key leaders from the widest diversity of groups and perspectives who have worked together to propose a way forward.
**It is important to note that all proposals include this most recent one will be brought before General Conference in May 2020. The General Conference is the only body that can speak for the denomination and formally adopt any potential changes to the general rules of our church which are found in our United Methodist Book of Discipline.
What are your thoughts on a potential separation?
Almost everyone who has asked me about this recent news has framed it with this question. What are your thoughts?
I certainly have many, but the main thing I want to communicate to anyone with concerns is that I see everything that has been announced in recent months – including this most recent proposal – as positive signs for our future.
I believe that our future faithfulness requires a willingness to be honest about our present reality.
I find this statement significant from this most recent proposal.
The United Methodist Church and its members aspire to multiply the Methodist mission in the world by restructuring the Church through respectful and dignified separation.
I celebrate the faithfulness of key leaders from across the varying perspectives and convictions within our denomination who have stated that they are no longer willing to allow significant disagreements to undermine the mission of the Church and the vitality of each local congregation.
I find the above statement to be a sincere expression of where we are as well as a shared hope of what the future can be for the mission that all current United Methodist churches share with all our sisters and brothers within the larger Christian church.
While churches within United Methodism and churches affiliated with other denominations live it out in differing ways, we all are united around the commission Christ gives in Matthew 28.
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…”
Is the United Methodist Church splitting over the question of same-sex marriage?
I think this is one of the most important questions anyone might ask. If you only read the headlines of recent articles, you would absolutely say ‘yes’ to this question. I would contend that this is a dramatic over-simplification of the deeper divisions that exist within the global denomination that is the United Methodist Church.
Again, I think it’s significant that the first sentence of the most recent proposal reads in this way. It says,
Whereas, The United Methodist Church and its members—after careful reflection, discussion and prayer—have fundamental differences regarding their understanding and interpretation of Scripture, theology and practice;
This statement regarding “fundamental differences” precedes any language regarding the expression of disagreements on the more specific issue of same-sex marriage.
I am fully committed to the conviction that our current impasse is over differences which include but are not limited to whether clergy may officiate same-sex weddings.
If you would like a better understanding of the “fundamental differences” referenced in the proposal, I highly recommend this article regarding a 2019 survey done by United Methodist Communications which looked at theological perspectives within United Methodism. Additionally, these summary charts from this same survey are available here.
What will this mean for First Methodist Mansfield?
I saved this question for last because it is actually the easiest to answer.
I don’t know.
As I stated above, this most recent proposal is only the latest one to be offered as a potential way forward. The General Conference body that will gather beginning on May 5th this year is the only body that can officially adopt any proposed changes to the general rules of our church.
It is impossible for me to predict what that body will do.
What I can say with full sincerity is that I do not have any concern about what will happen during those 11 days in May.
Jesus will still be Lord on May 16th.
The mission we share of Making Disciples of Jesus Christ who Love God, Love Others and Serve the World will remain the same.
Who we have been is who we will continue to be regardless of whatever challenges or opportunities we face in the remaining months of 2020 and in the years to come.
So let me finish by sharing a portion of what I wrote to our congregation following the called General Conference last February.
I want you to know that I believe this as strongly today as I did then.
Faithfulness has been the defining mark of this church for generations. Obedience has fueled the great work of this church for the last 134 years.
Your city needs you. The world needs you. Christ is counting on you. And I want you to hear again that I believe in you, your leadership believes in you and God believes in you.
If you have any additional questions, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.