The United Methodist Church is becoming untied. I remember laughing, some years ago, at the typo one church had made when it identified itself as (Name) Untied Methodist Church. It doesn’t strike me as quite as funny anymore.
Some 80+ current United Methodist Churches in our conference (Central Texas Conference) will be petitioning to disaffiliate from our denomination at a Special Called Annual Conference meeting on Saturday, September 17. A number of them will likely affiliate with the newly formed denomination, the Global Methodist Church; others will either affiliate with a different denomination or become autonomous non-denominational churches.
Over the past year, there has been all kinds of information shared about the future of the UMC. Some of that information has been true but much has not been. I think it would be helpful to recall the background for our current moment.
The seeds for this dissension were sown shortly after the Methodist Church united with the Evangelical United Brethren Church to form the United Methodist Church in 1968. The new denomination included the prohibition on the ordination of “homosexuals.” The 1960s was a decade of seismic changes and tremendous upheaval in our country as Civil Rights took center stage as the pressing need for our society. Even as early as 1964, the then Methodist Church was beginning to acknowledge the role religion had played in persecuting gay and lesbian persons.
Beginning in 1972 and at every General Conference (held every four years) since, petitions have been submitted to address our stance on human sexuality. None of these petitions, thus far, have received the votes required to change this prohibition within the UMC.
Over the past 8 years, the denomination has been on the brink of a schism (or, another schism – we separated over slavery in 1844) around our theological understanding of human sexuality. Those who wholeheartedly believed the current prohibition on ordination of LGBTQ+ persons to be aligned with “right” scriptural and theological interpretations formed the Wesley Covenant Association. This movement led to the formation of the new denomination, the Global Methodist Church.
Yet, over the past year, this emerging group has taken this moment to move beyond human sexuality and has attempted to portray the UMC in ways that are simply false. They have accused UMC clergy of not proclaiming the lordship of Jesus Christ and of disregarding the Bible. They have painted a picture of who they think the UMC will become, post-separation, and it is disparaging, condescending and false. I have reminded myself, repeatedly, that Jesus (my Lord and Savior) said (in the Bible), “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad…”
I am struggling to rejoice and be glad. I realize it is hard to shift our thinking. When our understandings and beliefs are challenged, it is difficult to let go of what we thought we knew and embrace new thinking. Jesus dealt with this throughout his ministry as he sought to help the Jewish people move from the letter of the law and into the heart of God. That isn’t to say that I’m right and the GMC is wrong; it is simply that we are called to wrestle with our questions, ideas, and perspectives as part of our continued growth as disciples of Jesus Christ.
I am absolutely convinced that any efforts we (FUMC Hurst) undertake to genuinely welcome and include all people, recognizing that every single person is a beloved child of God, is fully aligned with the commandment to love God and love our neighbor as ourselves. We do not need to agree on all things. We are actually stronger when we lovingly allow space for respectful disagreement. We cannot insist on agreement aside from a shared commitment to serving Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.
I am praying for those who have given birth to a movement out of anger and disagreement. It saddens me to imagine the experience of faithfully connecting into something based on taking a stand against something else. I cannot help but wonder what will happen once the stand has been taken. What will be the next contentious issue and how will it impact their newfound unity?
I am praying for all who have been and are being harmed through this process of separation. Our brothers and sisters who seek to disaffiliate are not our enemies; they are God’s beloved children just as surely as you and I are. I am at peace that we do not agree even as I grieve that agreeing to disagree is not an option for some. I am praying for our church, our conference, and our denomination as we fully trust in God to guide us through this dark valley and lead us into the future God imagines for us.
May we be united in praying for God’s peace to fill us, for God’s grace to sustain us, and for God’s strength to empower us for the work of ministry God has entrusted to us.