Recently the Western Jurisdiction voted to make the slogan of the UMC “Open Doors, Open Hearts, and Open Minds” a reality by adopting this statement:
A call to biblical obedience: Understanding that God’s grace and love are available to all persons, the WJ is on record as believing that the UMC is in error in its position that homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. As a result, the WJ calls on bishops, clergy, local churches and ministry settings the challenge to operate as if the statement in Paragraph 161F does not exist, creating a church where all people are truly welcome.(http://www.rmnblog.org/)More conservative Methodists have cried foul-ball, and rightfully so, the Book of Discipline clearly states that General Conference speaks for the entire global connection, and though it is extremely difficult to get any legislation passed due to the way our current system is set up - what the Western Jurisdiction has done is essentially told the General Conference that it is wrong and that they won’t listen to it when it come to LGBTIQ issues. Actions like these are not uncommon in Christianity, Protestants have done the same thing with the Roman Catholic church as have the Eastern Orthodox church. Baptists and Methodists split over the issues of race and slavery as evidenced by the Southern Baptist Convention (1845), and the Methodist Episcopal South (1844). The past ideological disagreements in these denominations have lead to “us vs. them” mentality that caused these churches and the respective denominations to split. Some like the Baptists never reconciled after their disagreement on slavery, and have continued to drift further apart as the decades became over a century; the Methodist Episcopal, and the Methodist Episcopal South on the other hand came back together and became the United Methodist Church (after merging with the Evangelical United Brethren Church in 1968).
The very name United Methodist is in-and-of itself misleading, because the church is not united when it comes to the issue of how to treat the LGBTIQ community. Some factions of the church want full-inclusion on every level of church; some wish only for the church to allow full-participation in local congregations; and there are those that wish to exclude said community from ordination, but not from other forms of participation; some factions like that of some of the delegations of the Central Conferences truly believe that LGBTIQ persons are evil and need to be stopped. How can this church resolve these very different approaches in a way that keeps our church united?
I say “our church” because it is all of ours. This issue is not unique to the UMC, the Roman Catholic church has views as contrasting evidenced by the fact that both Lady Gaga and Rick Santorum are both Roman Catholics but their views on the LGBTIQ community are as different as they are. Our denomination had a white flag raised at General Conference, the Hamilton-Slaughter petition, which would have allowed our church’s members to agree to disagree; but the voice of our denomination could not even agree to disagree. On the one hand it is laughable that General Conference couldn’t agree to disagree because it is obvious that they do not all agree. It is also sad that GC2012 failed to agree to disagree because that means that each side feels that it is so right it must run the other side over and force it to “do the right thing”. It creates an environment that leads to hurt and to defiance, the perfect storm for another Methodist schism.
The Western Jurisdiction was not alone in its contempt of the current wording of the Book of Discipline when it comes to homosexuality. The Northeastern Jurisdiction also pushed through legislation that showed the region’s disdain for the harsh language which has aptly been described as the “incompatibly clause”, but it went nowhere near the extreme move the Western Jurisdiction’s move. Alongside these jurisdictions are countless United Methodists in other jurisdictions and Central Conferences, yet despite the unrest and aggravation on both sides of this argument no one is willing to compromise. The actions of the Western Jurisdiction prove this point, and the jurisdiction’s actions can have multiple outcomes especailly since the Western Jurisdiction is also hosting the next General Conference, here are my predictions for what will happen in the next four years:
1. These actions will force General Conference to spend more time on “holy conferencing” on LGBTIQ issues.
2.. They will cause the US Methodists to consider making the US a Central Conference, or at least making the Western Jurisdiction one.
3. They will cause the entire church to rethink and focus on what our covenant is with one another, and re-examine the authority of the Book of Discipline.At worst this could lead to another Methodist schism, at best it could strengthen the church if we the church approach this with the humility and grace becoming of those who dare to call themselves Christians. What I want to happen is that different from what I envision happening: I want the US to be a Central Conference and end its colonial approach to church governance; I want General Conference to spend more time talking about homosexuality; I want the church to really think about what it means to be in covenant with one another. Most importantly I want this church to follow Christ.
I asked earlier: How can this church resolve these very different approaches in a way that keeps our church united? The answer is so simple: Fix our eyes on Jesus. We spend so much time looking at what makes us different and not focusing enough on why we were united in the first place, we were united by the power of the Holy Spirit in Christ. We have open doors so that others can come in and be lead to Christ as well, we have open hearts so that Christ’s love might pour out and touch others, and we have open minds so that whether we are right or wrong we are still faithfully loving all, and treating everyone with the same grace that the Creator showed through Christ.