I love people. It is one of my primary flaws and my primary strengths, people are messy and gross and hateful and bitter and wonderful and selfless and kind and gracious and beautiful. Do you see my dilemma? I love the United Methodist Church, even though I have only been a part of this family for a short while, this is still my family – and it is made up of humans, beautiful, messy humans. Humans that are currently in a state of sheer panic and disarray; what is a newly reborn UMC baby to do in this midst of this talk of a schism besides pray and duck their head?
The UMC is not a stranger to schism and rumors of schism. In 1844 the Methodist Episcopal Church split over the issue of slavery when one of the five bishops inherited slaves. The Church’s silence on the issue of slavery was brought to the forefront and we know how it ended. The Church reunited after slavery was ended and we all lived happily ever after. UNTIL women wanted to be ordained (although John Wesley ordained a woman in 1761 – it took until 1956 for women to fully gain ordination in the UMC), talk of schism rose again – female Elders were attacked and harassed but the storm passed and the UMC endured. The primary problem is not that we spend too much time focusing on issues of controversy, but that we avoid conflict with the world and with each other. Actually, that’s not entirely true – our real primary issue is that we as a denomination lost sight of Wesleyan values. John Wesley opposed slavery, he ordained women – he championed the rights of minority groups. So how then did the Methodist Episcopal Church split over slavery? We know exactly what Wesley thought on slavery, his followers in England fought hard to end slavery while Methodists here in the United States stayed silent on the issue. We lost sight of where we came from and what held us together and we left.
Everyone can talk about how expensive a split will be. And then there are issues of the property: obviously Asbury Seminary will go to the conservatives, Iliff and Claremont will go to the progressives – but what about Perkins and Duke? I’m not just speaking about the seminaries but the people they represent. Perkins has moderates and liberals and conservatives and every color of the rainbow, as does Duke, as does the UMC. How will this split really work? The answer is it won’t.
Splitting isn't about our mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, it is about us and what we want. We want instant change and gratification for our wants/desires. Our brothers and sisters won’t fall in line with our wishes so we feel it best to disown them rather than work to reach an amicable solution. We are spoiled children fighting over toys instead of fighting for justice. If a schism is really necessary let it be done with kindness and love, not hatred and disrespect. Let us be filled with grace and the Holy Spirit, not animosity, hostility, and a spirit of self-centeredness.
When we take communion the presiding Elder says “This is not my table or the United Methodist Church’s table, it’s God’s table and it is for everyone”, we need to remember that all of the property of the UMC, all of her seminaries, every building, pew, hymnal, Book of Worship, Book of Discipline, everything it owns is borrowed, even its members. The UMC belongs to God, so before we split up that which is God’s let us remember that God will hold us accountable for what was placed into our hands. And when God judges our actions we need to have a really good excuse to tell our Heavenly parent why we couldn't play nicely with our siblings.