A Surprising Light
An 18th Century English hymn says:
Sometimes a light surprises
The Christian while he sings;
It is the Lord, who rises
With healing in his wings.
When comforts are declining,
He grants the soul again
A season of clear shining
To cheer it after rain.
The surprise of a “season of clear shining” has come with a possible–though painful–way for The United Methodist Church to deal with the 48-year-long debate regarding human sexuality and the inclusion of LGBTQ persons in the life of the church.
The Council of Bishops announced that an ad hoc group of diverse leaders came to unanimous agreement on a Protocol of Reconciliation & Grace Through Separation. It’s offered in preparation for the General Conference that will meet in Minneapolis in May.
The mediation group included sixteen clergy, laity and bishops representing the conservative, centrist and progressive caucus groups within the UMC led by a professional mediator.
A key factor in the somewhat complex process defined in the Protocol is that The United Methodist Church will continue into the future with the expectation of becoming a full-inclusive church, while providing a fair and generous process for congregations and/or annual conferences to leave and form new expressions of the Methodist movement. It also calls for clergy charges and church trials regarding LGBTQ matters to be “held in abeyance” until after the next General Conference.
Bishop Ken Carter, presiding Bishop of the Florida Conference and President of the Council of Bishops, offered his insights on both the Protocol and the process here.
The Beginning Not the End
The Protocol is the beginning, not the end, of the process that would need to be adopted by the General Conference and would take at least two-four years to accomplish. No one would say that it is “perfect” but it is what is currently “possible” for us to move through this conflict and pour our energies into the mission of “making discipleship of Jesus Christ for the transformation for the world.”
Sadly, we’ve been here before. In 1844 The Methodist Episcopal Church split between North and South over slavery. Though many of us have worked long and hard to hold the church together, it appears that we have come to this kind of irreconcilable difference again.
But the work of the Holy Spirit continued and the divided church reunited in 1939 to form The Methodist Church which went on to unite with the Evangelical United Brethren Church to form The United Methodist Church in 1968.
My reading of Acts tells me that the Holy Spirit’s idea of a good time is surprising the church. In Acts 15 the early church found a way to deal with disagreement regarding the Old Testament laws on circumcision so that the gospel could be shared with different people in different cultures. Perhaps the Spirit is surprising us again.
As a member of the leadership team of the Uniting Methodists movement, I am grateful for the light that surprises us in way the members of the mediation team came together around the Protocol and pray that the Spirit will continue to be at work in the process ahead. I also hope and pray for the day when a future generation of Methodists will reconcile and be reunited in another form of “united” Methodism.
Grace and peace,
4 thoughts on “Surprising Light for the UMC”
Hello, Jim. Thank you for writing and sharing this article. Dad managed to get me released from Birmingham-Southern for two weeks in 1972 so that I could be the assistant to the director of the general conference that met in Atlanta that year. We both know the significance of that year. We methodists have been struggling with this since I was a junior in college, and now I’m in my third year of retirement.Like you I have prayed for and worked for a solution that would keep all of us United. But we have reached the point that Paul and Barnabas reached when they couldn’t agree over Mark going with them on their next journey. I remembered Ernest Campbell Cambell preached a sermon years ago on that text, pointing out that Paul and Barnabas each went their own way, and each in their own way was successful. Thank you for your efforts and your leadership and for sharing your blessing on this proposal. As I recall the first creation story in Genesis teaches us that at the end of each day God looked at what he had done, and he didn’t describe it as perfect. He described it as good. This solution is not what you and I hoped and prayed and worked for. But at this point it feels “good.” And I’m trusting that the Spirit will enable it the same way it did after the Jerusalem Council met over the question of what to do with the Gentiles.Grace and peace,David JonesSent from my Samsung
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I’m not so sure this isn’t the beginning of the end. While traditionalist will leave the UMC unencumbered by the business entities of the UMC and a brand that has been tarnished for many years, progressives will be left holding the bag. This is a very good deal for traditionalist, and pretty terrible deal for progressives.
The episcopal fund announced last year that its coffers would dry up by the end of 2023 under today’s construct. After the split in May, traditionalist have stated they don’t see a need for Bishops in their current numbers. With likely half the UMC leaving to form a new traditional denomination, the episcopal fund will dry up even sooner.
Then you have the bureaucracy of the business entities the UMC will retain after May’s split. Already a financial black hole, they will become even more so a burden after May. Lastly I would submit that the UMC brand will be further tarnished by the media in May who will very literally be carrying the news that the UMC is now a gay church. Like it or not, that will be the message. While there is nothing wrong with a liberal gay denomination, the reality is the LGBTQIA community makes up 4.5% of the population. When individuals and families go church shopping, the UMC brand while leading in the area of inclusion, will still be the denomination that represents the gay community.
That 4.5% support base, even with their family and friends will be insufficient to see the growth the UMC will need to make to survive post May 2020. These are the facts that progressives will need to address. These will be the challenges progressives will face. On the other hand, traditionalist will continue to march on and be known as the denomination that stood and still stands for the divine inspiration of God known as the Holy Scripture.
That’s hard to compete against.