Somehow, I missed the big news yesterday that sixty conservative UM clergy had a conference call, the purpose of which was to discuss separation of the denomination. I first found out about it via my friend, Christy Thomas, and her excellent blog this morning.
While I wince at her use of “inquisition” here. (We’re nowhere near an actual inquisition…) I resonate with her heartfelt sorrow.
I find no joy in the talk of separation. I also find no joy in hearing that conservative colleagues believe they cannot live in a denomination that would allow same sex marriage or other examples of the full inclusion of LGBT persons.
As others, including myself, have pointed out, many Christian churches are opening their doors. And even more than this, many actual Christians, who sit in actual pews, are having a genuine conversion on these issues. I mean the word “conversion” in the theological sense.
So, it’s sad that conservatives are again floating the idea of separation. And I will remind everyone that this was floated back in 2004. It fell like a lead balloon.
But I will remind you of two other things:
1) This proposal in our time, as it did in 2004, comes from the conservative side, not the “progressive” side. Progressives, up to now, and on the main, want us to stay together. But they also believe that we must be a true “big tent” church, and not just a pretend big tent.
2) Conservatives are proposing this at a time when they are still “winning” all the votes. (“winning” is obviously offensive language…I will us it below, and I apologize for it, but it’s a quick way to make the point)
I want to say more about this second point…
There is no possible way to show that the UMC’s policies on LGBT persons have become more “liberal” in the past 40 years. In fact, it’s clear that they’ve become more restrictive. (1996 and the restrictions on same sex weddings. Disgusting, genital-based definitions of “self avowed, practicing” and many others examples…)
During my entire ministry, conservatives have shrieked that the UMC is losing members because it’s too “liberal.” But the clear evidence is that over that past 40 years, we’ve become nothing but more conservative.
And, guess what? We’re still losing members!!
So it cannot, de facto, be because we are straying too far to the liberal end of the theological spectrum. I make the argument, in fact, that we are losing members because we are moving in a conservative direction, when the rest of American society is moving in a progressive direction.
So, everyone should really step back for a moment and ask a very serious question: Why would conservatives be suggesting separation at a time when they are “winning” every single fight at General Conference over 40 years?
People who are “winning” a debate don’t normally threaten to leave.
It clearly makes it seems as if there is some other agenda. Perhaps not in the minds and hearts of everyone who is threatening to leave. But at least in the minds and hearts of some. Again, people who are on the “winning” side of a debate don’t normally leave.
Finally, let me speak to an idea in Christy’s blog: That all this leads to an ultimate end where progressives “leave.”
That is most certainly one possible outcome. It would be regrettable, and certainly not something I would favor at this time. But I only point out this one thing: That if we split thusly once we will be likely to split again between conservative and moderate. This was pointed out to me by some moderate friends about four years ago.
Moderates, in the long run, would not be able to sustain a denomination without the progressive wing, and would eventually also separate from the conservatives…or vice versa. However it happens, it would happen. So, if we split once, we split again.
I reviewed all this in the following blog, for those who are interested in the logic: Is Schism the Best Future for the UMC?
This logic makes the likelihood of split –despite the vitriolic rhetoric of some– less than it might appear right now. But change is absolutely coming, in some form or fashion. I’m just not smart enough to know how it will happen.
But I know that I still yearn for the truly “big tent” (not “pretend big tent”) global church where conservatives, moderates and progressives can all find and keep their place. I am on record as saying that “Live and Let Live Can Work.” And I believe it deep the core of my faith.
I believe God has given us the gifts to be smart enough to figure out how to do this.
It’s an open question as to whether we will.