Thursday, October 25, 2012

Dividing the UMC is No Solution - Try Local Autonomy

Dividing the United Methodist denomination is a bad idea. (Click here for some background info.)

I thought we were supposed to be a mission focused church. I thought we were supposed to keep the main thing the main thing. I thought that meant an outwardly focused orientation. I thought we were followers of Jesus Christ.

Dividing our denomination does none of those things. Division does not align with our mission. Division is definitely not the “main thing.” Division is the most inwardly focused thing we could do. Division of the body of Christ is incompatible with Christian teaching.

And you know what? You know what would happen if we spend the exorbitant time and money and energy on dividing the denomination?


Nothing would happen. Nobody would care. The people who aren’t coming to United Methodist Churches now would not magically start coming to the Gay Methodist or the Straight Methodist, or whatever Silly Methodist name we would come up with, just because where there used to be one there were now two denominations. Or three, or six, or a dozen.

Nobody would care. And when I say “nobody,” I mean nobody who is supposed to be the “target demographic” for our mission. (For the record, I do not like that term, since it objectifies people in overly simplistic and rather demeaning ways.) In fact, just about everyone who’s not already heavily involved in church has stopped reading this post by now, and is on to more interesting things, I’m sure.

For the record…

…I reject the idea that the body of Christ should be divided as a way to avoid confronting the controversies.

…I reject the idea that it is possible to categorize the diversity present in our denomination into an either/or, us and them, ally and enemy paradigm.

…I reject the idea that all gay people would feel comfortable in the liberal congregations, and all conservative people would feel comfortable in the “not gay” congregations, and every possible permutation of these labels and categories.

…I reject the idea that almost 300 years of Wesleyan tradition isn’t worth as much as a disagreement about sex.

…I reject the short-sightedness that laments the amazing, exponential growth of African and Asian United Methodist churches. (This lament is offered because these regions generally don’t affirm marriage and ordination for all people.)

I reject all of it. I reject it in favor of mission: the “main thing,” an outwardly focused drive into our communities and around the world. It is a drive to share the love of God made known in Christ Jesus. It is a mission that is equipped and empowered by the living presence of God’s Holy Spirit. It is a mission known by various terms and phrases, but at the core it is quite simply to make disciples of Jesus Christ who are transforming the world for God’s sake.

As such, what makes sense to me for the immediate future of the United Methodist denomination is local autonomy with regard to the question of marriage and ordination, a General Conference shift from “shall” to “may,” if you will.

So, according the Book of Discipline, pastors currently have authority with regard to marrying couples. The pastor does not have to marry every couple that asks. A simple extension of that authority would allow individual pastors to marry same-sex couples, or not, depending on their personal convictions and their community context.

Similarly, the Annual Conference is given the authority to ordain individuals. Each Annual Conference has its own variation on that process anyway, whether in mentoring, the role of the various boards, the interaction with the DS, the candidacy process, the residency time, etc. Each Annual Conference could easily be given authority to determine whether a candidate’s sexual life is a significant enough stumbling block to prohibit their ordination.

And voila! A solution with which no one will be completely happy! Sounds like a compromise to me. Some will say it is condoning sin. Some will say it is too random. Some will say it will create a complicated mess of “safe” and “not safe” congregations and conferences. Some will say that it essentially divides the denomination, if not formally then practically. I completely understand where all these perspectives would come from.

But we cannot simply stay status quo; status quo is a steady decline toward an impending tsunami of Weemsian proportions in North American Methodism.

We cannot divide the denomination, for the reasons I stated above. And the same reasons also apply to the “civil disobedience” option in which pastors or conferences intentionally break the rules to force a confrontation. Not missional, not Christlike, not outwardly focused, etc.

The best option is local autonomy. Local autonomy represents an option that is missional, faithful, hopeful, and most importantly, grace-filled and loving. It is not the cleanest option, but we live in a messy world, don’t we?

[Note: This article has been edited from the original post. "Latin American" in the original has been replaced with "Asian." I apologize for the error on my part.]


KyleCinDallas said...

I agree Local Autonomy is the best solution but I also believe that the same people who do not support inclusion would never vote for Local Autonomy. I too believe that the most logical solution is to have the UMC divide much as it did over the slavery issue.

I also believe that there are lots of people in there 20s and 30s, gay and straight, that will not walk through the doors of a UMC church due to is current second class treatment of GLBT and I do believe it would make a big difference to them if the church was inclusive.

I would be in favor of trying to get passage of Local Autonomy at the next conference and if that fails, at the same meeting start discussions on how to have peaceful breakup.

Kansas Bob said...

Great post Andy! As a UMCer I agree with it in full.

Andy B. said...

Well, KB. I suppose that if you agree 100% with me on something, one of us might need to rethink our position! ;)

Kansas Bob said...

Now that made me smile Andy! Reminds me that LBJ once said ...

"If two men agree on everything, you may be sure that one of them is doing the thinking."

... as I am now retired, I am happy to let you do the thinking for me. :)

Kansas Bob said...

Strangely Andy, I may have been the first to think this. I remembered that I left this comment on your blog last November 27th:

Here is a "gray" proposal that I thought of today in church as I watched a beautiful baptism of a baby whose parents are both gay.

1) Gay marriage allowed in all UMC churches that reside in states where gay marriage is legal. (folks being married must reside in said state and members of that church).

2) Clergy is permitted to officiate at such weddings but not mandated to do it.

Seems like this might be a middle ground way to begin? But I am pretty naive about such things. I am sure that most (on both sides) want this to be an all or nothing proposition. Either way I think that some people will be mad.

Andy B. said...

Darn it, KB. Even my best ideas are somebody else's.

Kansas Bob said...

Perhaps my comment was but a tiny seed. :)