Have you ever wondered what John Wesley may have thought of proposals to divide the United Methodist Church? Wonder no more:
“It is evil in itself. To separate ourselves from a body of living Christian, with whom we were before united, is a grievous breach of the law of love. It is the nature of love to unite us together; and the greater the love, the stricter the union. And while this continues in its strength, nothing can divide those whom love has united. It is only when our love grows cold, that we can think of separating from our brethren. And this is certainly the case with any who willingly separate from their Christian brethren. The pretenses for separation may be innumerable, but want of love is always the real cause; otherwise they would still hold the unity of the Spirit in the bound of peace. It is therefore contrary to all those commands of God, wherein brotherly love is enjoined: To that of St. Paul, ‘Let brotherly love continue:’ -- that of St. John, ‘My beloved children, love one another;’ -- and especially to that of our blessed Master, ‘This is my commandment, That ye love on another, as I have loved you’ Yea, ‘By this,’ saith he, ‘shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye love one another.’” – John Wesley, Sermon 75, On Schism
Let me just repeat the phrase I highlighted above:
“The pretenses for separation may be innumerable, but want of love is always the real cause.”
In the present case, the pretense for separation is the status and role in the church of people who are gay, specifically as it pertains to marriage and ordination. There’s no way to know, except to speculate, as to what Mr. Wesley would have believed regarding the specific questions on same-sex marriages and the ordination of people who are gay. I’m not intending to engage in such speculation at the moment.
I am intending to elevate our denomination’s conversation to a place of love and true ecclesial connection. Talk of who has permission to marry or not, talk of who might be ordained or not … all is mere pretense. The true root of our division is want of love.
For God’s sake, can we not love one another?
Furthermore, John Wesley understood schism as more than mere formal division. “[Schism] is not a separation from a church … it is a separation in a church,” he preached (emphasis mine). In that sense, the United Methodist Church has already experienced schism, and the true question is not whether to divide or not, but rather whether to unify again or not.
The question becomes one of faith: Do we as a church have sufficient faith in God to become one again? We are already divided. The schism has happened. The question really is: now what?
It seems to me that if we truly loved each other, we’d stick together, even if we fight sometimes. My kids argue with each other, but they stick together, because they love each other. Can the United Methodist Church follow the example my children are setting?
There are a bunch of plans floating around out there; we could see anything from maintenance of the status quo to outright division to some kind of compromise. All will be decided in 2016 at our next General Conference, pending an appeal to the Judicial Council, I suppose.
As we approach General Conference of 2016, maybe the United Methodist Church needs to start with confessing that the schism has already taken place. Maybe by reorienting our denomination to that reality can we ask the questions that really need to be asked:
Are we bold enough to come back together?
Are we faithful enough to trust God with the future?
Do we love one another or not?