To Avoid Schism, Let the #UMC Play It Out

Child at my church made this lego church--I have gray hair for some reason.

Church kid made this lego church–I have gray hair?!?!

In an effort to not give up on the United Methodist Church, and to seek to find new ways for a divided church to live together, the progressive voices in the UMC have come up with a novel solution:

Let’s play at being Church in a new way.

And it has the power-brokers in the UMC absolutely scared.

Play in the Church?!

Play is not a term that one uses often in Church. In the Spring 2014 issue of FOCUS magazine, a publication by my alma mater Boston University School of Theology, Professor Dr. Courtney Goto names an absence of “play” as detrimental to the church:

Play is often considered frivolous—associated with children, adolescents, and entertainment—and irrelevant to the serious business of Christianity’s role in human liberation and Christian formation. On church grounds, play is often thought to be restricted to areas such as the nursery, the playground, or meeting rooms for youth. Churches intentionally isolate play from “serious” areas like the sanctuary and the pastor’s office. (pg.41)

Play is perceived as “for the children” except while they are in the sanctuary. But why do they play? Play can be seen as rehearsal for future choices and behaviors. Or play can be seen as refinement of tools to use in real life (see UMCLead’s article on “Why Every Pastor Should Play RISK“). And yet play is more than rehearsal or even limited to current realities. Goto continues

Playing allows a person to sense what is true or authentic by inviting the player to enter a world of imagination, creativity, and the senses. This entails setting aside just enough disbelief, appearances, or literal ways of thinking to shift temporarily into another way of engaging reality…In playing, possibilities abound. Alternatives and visions can be inhabited, explored, and abandoned (pg.41)

That’s all very nice. But for a United Methodist Church so distraught, lost, frustrated, segmented, and even sinful…how can play actually lend possibility to the very serious topics at hand?

Application of Play

The answer is this: To play is to show what the alternative looks like.

In a polarized church where no majority has emerged to effect transformative change, perhaps we should turn to play to offer up new possibilities. For oppressed minorities like LGBT persons inside a church that does not affirm their full humanity or participation in the church, play can be a cathartic and liberative act. Goto:

In the midst of slavery, African Americans continued to practice forms of play that preserved human dignity. Reframing an unfathomable reality by temporarily separating themselves from it was key to their survival, giving them hope, dignity, and vision. Playing allowed African Americans to experience who they truly were and to reject racist understandings of slaves imposed in everyday life. (pg.42)

House Rules that Play Well

In the spirit of play, the Progressives in the United Methodist Church have created separate (and legal) realities so that they can “play” at what church looks like to them without rule-mongering from the Traditionalists.

Like “house rules” that are variances on the established canon of a game, this allows conferences in more progressive areas of the country to play on a more equal playing field with those more traditional conferences that have long enjoyed their hegemony.

  • “House Rules” allow regional variance so the UMC can be more effective and missional. Like a form of the game Monopoly that incorporates social inequality, the South has benefitted from social policies in the UMC that matches their culture, whereas the West and Northern areas have a radical disconnect between our policies and our cultures. Little wonder those churches are not growing as quickly as their Southern sisters!
  • It opens up a closed ecclesial system to new forms of experimentation. If people can see that church can look like “this,” then we’ll be able to reach new populations for Christ. They may want those house rules at their house in a more Traditional area.
  • It allows people to see that progressive social policies are not a poison pill to church vitality (Indeed, the highest percentage of vital churches actually are in the West)

Play that does no harm

The purpose isn’t to play a radically different game. The purpose is to show that the imperfect aspects of a game can be overcome and still have an effective game. And rather than keep telling people this (say, for 40 years), the Progressives are showing by playing the same game in a new way.

That’s why these forms of play ought to be so thrilling to United Methodists in the West and Northern. This is also why play is so dangerous to the standard-bearers and Inquisition leaders in Houston, Indianapolis, DC, and Wilmore (Kentucky). Goto explains why:

By playing, [the slaves] were creating what Jürgen Moltmann calls an “anti-environment” or a “counter-environment.” Such an environment opens people to “creative freedom and future alternatives” through “conscious confrontation.” Playing with more liberating possibilities is vital to exploring them, claiming them, and making them real. (pg.42)

The Traditionalists want us to believe that our situation is untenable or our problems are intractable and schism is the only possible way forward. But such scorched-earth games are short-sighted. By seeing the actions by Progressives as forms of play that allow for new realities to come forth, these actions return United Methodism to its core purpose: making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

Allowing conferences to play with new realities does no harm to other conferences playing by different rules, and empowers progressive conferences to make real their dreams and visions for the United Methodist Church. A rising tide lifts all boats! Indeed, it may show people what possibilities may be present to break through the ecclesial logjam and allow us to be one Church again in mission, ministry, and expression of grace, pregnant with possibility, to a world of polarization and cynicism.

Let’s Play…as One Church (eventually)

Let’s play.

Instead of taking our balls and going home in schism, let’s play it out and allow more variance in how we do church.

Let’s play our common game with a new set of rules so that the world can choose which variation they are attracted to in different contexts.

Let’s play this game that may become attractive to our cultures, and in doing so, may our game become one game (with no house rules) that everyone wants to play (see “The Release of Methodism 2.0“).

Because in play, in possibility, there is hope for more than we have now.

Goto concludes:

The Holy Spirit works within and among the willing faithful to empower them to do what they cannot accomplish alone. In Jesus’ life, it was in healing the sick and raising the dead. In contemporary times, playing can contribute to the process of liberation. Any leap toward freedom inevitably involves death— perhaps the death of holding patterns that have long held one captive—and it involves resurrection, including the birth of new critical awareness and more abundant ways of thinking, feeling, and doing. (pg.42)

Thoughts?

(EDIT: corrected the first entry about the New York Annual Conference to narrow it to the marriage question)
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Comments

  1. Doug Widdowson says

    I will admit (up front) that I am more of a traditionalist. I will also admit that I’m trying to not react and there are elements of “play” that I appreciate.

    One thought that sticks with me though – we proclaim we are part of a connection – doesn’t the idea of various Annual Conferences “playing” weaken the connection?

    I also see problems with playing by different rules – It’s baseball season and my beloved team hits a ground ball toward third – it’s going to be a close play at first when the catcher interferes with the base runner before he can take more than 1 step out of the batters box. The umpire calls interference but the catcher says according to football rules, I can make contact within the first 5 yards. You can’t mix rules and play the same game . . .

    While I like the image of play and hope we can find creative ways to do ministry and live our our common life – I see, in your thoughts, an image of play that is still divisive and not helpful for our shared life together. Sadly, I don’t have an alternative to offer and, at the moment, Sunday’s sermon is more pressing than this theological discussion. Grace, Peace, and Hope . . .

    • says

      How do “designated hitters” fit into your analogy? One segment of the game has different rules than the other, but they find mutual ways to play together.

      • Doug Widdowson says

        The DH rule is a difference between AL and NL teams – during the World Series the league puts a rule in place that says (in effect) when the NL is the home team there is no DH and when the AL is the home team there is a DH. They have, however, agreed upon the rules of the game and have agreed to abide by the rules.

        I still see your example as a “have it your way” faithfulness that weakens the connection rather than strengthening it. Now I really do need to get to that sermon . . . :)

          • Doug Widdowson says

            Some would argue that when the AL plays by the NL rules (and the pitcher has to bat) that there is an unfair advantage.

            I think you and I have a fundamental disagreement and we probably won’t change each other mind (at least tonight) but I do appreciate most of the conversation that the original post has generated.

            I do want to ask you another question – you’ve said that the Progressives in the United Methodist Church have created separate (and legal) realities so that they can “play” at what church looks like to them – these responses (while legal) are in reaction to events that are prohibited by the current Discipline.

            Does this playfulness decrease the sense of community that needs to exist for us to find our collective way forward?

  2. Keith Mcilwain says

    What you refer to as “play” is also referred to as “schismatic”. Ignoring parts of our covenant one doesn’t like is a question of integrity, not “play”. Imagine if some Conferences chose to ignore ordination of women as “play”. Pretty ugly stuff.

    Aside from that, the Conferences & Jurisdictions aren’t granted authority in our system to “play” in such ways. This kind of “play” or conversation belongs at General Conference.

    • Sam says

      ‘ This kind of “play” or conversation belongs at General Conference. ‘ That’s kind of the point, no? I feel it would require some sort of amendment at General Conference to allow this to ‘legally’ happen. But to get there, one has to start the conversation about it first. Can’t just pop up at General Conference with it without building any movement beforehand, that’s guaranteed to fail.

      • says

        All the examples above are legal according to the judicial council, or have not been challenged by their constituencies for years. So I fail to see what is not “legal” about these states of play.

        • Keith Mcilwain says

          You cite Conferences & Jurisdictions ignoring parts of the BoD with which they disagree. It’s illegal AND unethical. And – more to your original point – schismatic, and not in a very playful fashion.

          Also, by violating the covenant, they’re making it more difficult for General Conference to even trust them with the kind of experiments you’re suggesting. They’re hurting their own cause, and hastening schism.

          • says

            Keith, please point out chapter and verse where:

            1. The Western Jurisdiction action to operate as if the prohibitions against LGBT persons has been deemed illegal. It hasn’t.
            2. The Judicial Council has deemed annual conferences unable to adopt the Western Jurisdiction action in #1. It hasn’t–I even included a link to the JC ruling above.
            3. The rulings on the trials of Ogletree, the two clergypersons in PNW, and others have been deemed illegal. They haven’t.

            Otherwise, calling such actions illegal is not accurate.

  3. says

    Thanks Jeremy. An important observation you made: “the South has benefitted from social policies in the UMC that matches their culture, whereas the West and Northern areas have a radical disconnect between our policies and our cultures. Little wonder those churches are not growing as quickly as their Southern sisters!”

    Just like churches across the world can adjust worship and structure to bring the gospel to their particular contexts, we’re seeing congregations across the connection (not just on the west coast) play by newer rules. I see it as a sign of the Spirit moving.

    Oddly, we who are “progressive” are not fundamentally bothered by being in a church with conservatives. We take it for granted. But it seems that those who are conservative cannot stomach being in a church with progressives. Is it really so troublesome to have some members, church, and clergy performing marriages that he wouldn’t? I guess so. Dr. Ben Witherington’s recent blog post verged on being a polemic: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/bibleandculture/2014/03/20/a-response-to-bishop-sanos-call-to-biblical-obedience-part-four/

    • Doug Asbury says

      You hit the nail on the head, Brad. For conservatives, it’s “do it our way, or out you go,” while progressives are willing to continue to discuss differences in order either to learn something new that justifies change, to continue to seek to persuade others to our way of thinking, or simply better to understand those with whom we differ. I think the Apostle Paul – regardless of some of his writings that give some progressives conniptions – is a model for this idea of “play,” since he bore witness to the “traditionalist” council of Apostles in Jerusalem that ultimately drew concessions from them that allowed their affirmation of his mission to the Gentiles. We need to keep talking to one another as though none of us has a lock on “the mind of God,” lest we find ourselves guilty of the hubris of thinking that we are “right” and, by extension, “righteous” and that all who disagree with us are “wrong” and, when they persist in their wrongheadedness, “evil.”

      • Doug Widdowson says

        I’ve been wrestling with this entire post and thread the entire day . . .

        For the record – not ALL conservatives are of the do it “our way or, out you go.” mentality.

        The struggle I truly have is that both sides talk at each other rather than to each other. Even your post Doug (nice name!) creates in me a feeling of being talked at (and “talked about” at the end of your post) rather than encouraging the dialogue.

        I don’t mind being in a church of progressives and traditionalists – I do mind being told I’m wrong (just as you don’t like being told you are wrong.)

        We all just want to be heard, understood, and loved. Maybe someday we can figure out how to play together.

        • says

          I agree, Doug W., and I apologize that my post was over-generalizing. Plenty of progressives are “my way or the highway” kind of thinkers. However, I’ve heard a lot less hand-wringing over separation/schism from conservatives than I have from progressives. I could be wrong in that assessment, however.

          If I may risk generalizing (but hopefully not over-generalizing), I’m interested in the conservative response to the “civil disobedience” taking place across the connection. Progressives see civil disobedience as a messy but sometimes necessary moral action, taken to shake the institution out of its bad habits. We don’t want to be enablers of a destructive behavior. (We see the exclusion of LGBT persons as a sin.) We love the church, and so we don’t want to abandon it, especially when it seems stuck in such a bad habit.

          To be conservative is to be less amenable to breaking the rules. (I mean this as a description, not as an insult.) Progressives are more willing to break the rules for a perceived greater good, in an attempt to live into a newer reality. Conservatives seem to have trouble understanding why we would stay in an institution with which we disagree on some issues.

          • says

            I miss-typed: I’ve heard MORE hand-wringing over separation/schism from conservatives than from progressives. Ben Witherington’s post being a case-in-point.

            However, in my conference (Mississippi), it’s only some hard-lined conservatives who seem to be obsessed with separation/schism/whatever. There are plenty of self-identified conservatives who aren’t too worried (or too vocal) about the issue.

          • Doug Widdowson says

            I wrote my response below and then wanted to add this preamble – I sincerely hope I haven’t seemed argumentative in this – I’ve tried to share openly and honestly – I admit I don’t want to see the polity of the UMC changed and I also believe the conversation is important . . .

            I feel like I’m about to ramble – I don’t have a problem with civil disobedience. My frustration – and I emphasize the MY part of this – is that I see (as Jeremy points out in the original post) Annual Conferences and Jurisdictions wanting to engage in civil disobedience (play) without any consequences when it comes to this particular issue.

            For instance – we have Bishops and other leaders who have been arrested and fined over immigration. They knew this was a possibility when they engaged in the process. We now have clergy who engage in an act of disobedience and want to do so with immunity (no trial – no charges – etc.)

            Again – maybe it’s because I think I’m right and you’re wrong (I know – you think I’m wrong and you’re right – so we are even ) but I would have more respect for the acts of disobedience if folks were willing to stand up and say “Here I am – I did it – now what are you going to say to me?” It’s for precisely that same reason I wish we had a common “penalty” (for lack of a better word this morning). I wonder if there would be “civil disobedience” if the outcome was (as in Pennsylvania) revoked credentials? Would that kind of disobedience be more meaningful than the “wink wink – slap on the hand 24 hour suspension? If we, at least, had a common “penalty” there would be one less thing to argue about. :)

            Perhaps it is because I am on the conservative side but I don’t see “ownership” from the progressive side. It seems to me that if you are going to engage in civil disobedience (for the sake of true transformation) then you need to be open to the consequences.

            Aha! I’ve rambled enough to gain some clarity (at least for myself) – I don’t see the “civil disobedience” as working for true transformation . . . I see the current tactics as as a form of bullying. (And both sides – I suppose can make that same claim – so I’m right back where I started from.) Saddened that we can’t find ways to truly seek a way forward and feeling like a split is inevitable. As for myself, I plan to stay at the table as best I can and if a “conscious separation” (how I dislike that phrase – but I think in this case it’s appropriate) is to happen I think it will come from the progressive side who is fed up with trying to change the minds of the traditionalists

        • says

          Thanks for your second response, Doug W.

          I, too, agree that progressives need to “own” our civil disobedience if we’re going to engage in that tactic. If that comes with a particular penalty, we should accept that as a possible outcome. (And you’re right, the same penalty would be one less thing to argue about…)

  4. David says

    I’ve been sitting with the Baseball analogy that developed above. I’m an American League fan, I’m good with the D.H., and the compromise–my issue becomes what do we do with “teams” that don’t fit in the “League” where they find themselves? Most churches and clergy in the Western and North East Jurisdictions might be fine in a more progressive conference, but not all. Similarly, most churches and clergy in the South East and South Central would be fine with the current Discipline (but some might like to play in the new league). How do you propose dealing with members (clergy and congregations) who joined the current system, but who by the fault of geography might find themselves forced to play by new rules? How would Open Itinerancy continue in, say, New England or the Pacific Northwest for traditionalist clergy and churches?

    Certainly, no church in either conference could reject a female pastor, or an immigrant pastor–so I cannot imagine either conference allowing a congregation to say “no partnered gay clergy here,” or a pastor saying “I’ll do weddings for my members, but no same-sex weddings while I’m pastor.” A traditionalist pastor appointed to a church where her/his predecessor had been officiating at same-sex weddings couldn’t change that course without fear of reprisal from the Cabinet once the congregation was split by her/his actions.

    Either, there would have to be accommodations that would severely restrict appointments to traditionalist congregations and for traditionalist clergy, or everyone would have to play by the new rules, like it or not (which seems more fair). That, or we’d have to create overlapping Annual Conferences (perhaps across the connection), like the AL and NL, and allow both congregations and clergy to decide which rules they can play by?

    • says

      By saying they are not worthy of lifelong partnership or marriage, and by stating they are not worthy of serving the Church in ordained ministry.

      They can do the latter, but only if they deny their own human need for companionship.

      • Jason Sansbury says

        You make an assumption that all people are created for companionship and lifelong partnership with another person. That isn’t the case. There are heterosexual people who also are called to singleness and celibacy; I fail to see where they are having a life that is less than whole and complete.

        • says

          I make the assumption that people are created with the possibility for companionship.

          Choosing a life of celibacy is perfectly valid; having the choice made for you is not.

          • says

            Since when does all companionship have to be sexual? I doubt that the many celibate monastics throughout history would agree that their vocation to celibacy was without meaningful companionship. Someone like Nouwen comes to mind.

            As for “having the choice made for you,” that assumes a) people, gay or straight, abide by the church’s teaching on celibacy and fidelity and b) people cannot choose to be a part of a church that affirms their sexuality. Those are both very big assumptions.

  5. Keith Mcilwain says

    Jeremy…you’re suggesting that a Conference or Jurisdiction deciding to ignore parts of the BoD is a legal act? Are you asking me to find a paragraph or a JC ruling that this sort of activity is illegal?

    If so, would you have a problem if a Conference or Bishop chose to simply NOT ordain women because they disagreed with that particular teaching?

    • says

      Ordination of women/infant baptism are not the same level of law as LGBT prohibitions in the UMC. Doctrine that resides in our Constitution and Doctrinal Standards are not up for discussion in the same way that the LGBT discussion is. Apple, meet Orange.

  6. says

    Kudos for this post. The subsequent comments veering off into sports analogies, while they make sense in there own context, miss the point, I think, of Jeremy’s use of the concept of “play.” There are “games” that are creative and team building, without winners and losers, and there games, like baseball, that focus on competition and winners and losers. These are very different concepts of what “play” and “games” are.

    I often wonder when and how we in the UMC will realize that our institutional ways must give way to some way of “order” before the only solution will be schism. It seems to me an important reason behind the success of the Methodist movement was Wesley’s autocratic rule over the “rules” for the Methodists, which served to keep the growing groups of thousands cohesive with each other. But then, once the movement grew to become the large institution that it is, we can no longer expect our “rules” and our institutional ways to maintain our cohesion.

    The first census in England was in 1801, and the population of England was 8.9 million people. In the 1800 U.S. census the population was 5.3 million. That’s roughly where the UMC is now as a worldwide institution in a world with more than seven billion people in a wildly divergent economic and social reality from 200 years ago. Yet so many of us get hung up on one or two sentences in the Discipline (that are contradicted by other sentences in the same) and claim that are disagreements are a violation of our “covenant.” Um, read the Old Testament. God and the Israelites regularly re-negotiated their covenant(s). Why can’t we in the UMC do the same?

    I don’t think there’s a Jewish or Christian group on the planet that actually obeys Leviticus 21:9, for example (God have mercy on them, if they’re out there). I suppose someone could say, “Well, there are no more ‘temples,’ so this ‘rule’ doesn’t apply.” To which I would say, “Exactly. And that is why human societies change, because ‘temples’ and ‘rules’ all ultimately break down, get re-interpreted, overturned, etc.” What are the higher principles and grace at work when things do change?

    Playing with these issues is a healthy way to move forward. Interesting, isn’t it, that only one letter separates “playing” and “praying.”

  7. says

    Now I’ve got something new to put on my nametag at Annual Conference: “Standard Bearer and Inquisition Leader.” Thank you for your contribution to playfully respectful dialog, UM Jeremy!

  8. Ric Shewell says

    I think Monopoly is a better analogy than baseball for the kind of play that you are talking about. There is a rule book for Monopoly, but EVERYONE PLAYS IT DIFFERENTLY. A lot of the time, the more nuanced rules aren’t even set before people sit down to play it. When someone lands on free parking, do they get $500 or $500 plus everyone’s taxes and penalties or do they get nothing as the rule book states? We get into disagreements when the rules aren’t set out before we start playing, but that’s just it — the rules are not set out before we start playing. We have to play and create rules as we play and be ready to amend those rules as we play. This line of thought is similar to Samuel Wells’ Improvisation as Christian Ethics book also, which I think is great. Thanks Jeremy.

  9. Zzyzx says

    Anyone up for a game of Calvinball? Okay, I admit it. I think that church should be run along Calvinball principles. The world and the church would be a far more fun-filled and, more importantly, SPIRIT-filled place.

  10. Cameron Manifold says

    Jeremy,
    Thanks to this post, and the lectionary texts, my sermon for this week practically wrote itself. At least in part, pointing out that one of the annoying things about Jesus is his willingness to display a sense of humor, and play.
    Thanks

  11. Julie A. Arms Meeks says

    Well, there was a petition put forth at last General Conference to create a “Reconciling” Jurisdiction (I am probably wrong on the words but know I’m correct on the intent) that local churches and clergy could affiliate with, no matter their physical location. It didn’t get passed but with the right imagination and further work, it could be the way to go forward. As stated by others earlier, there are plenty of clergy, laity & churches that think differently than the “standard” in their annual conference.

    I completely agree with Brad’s earlier “Oddly, we who are “progressive” are not fundamentally bothered by being in a church with conservatives. We take it for granted. But it seems that those who are conservative cannot stomach being in a church with progressives.” Being progressive, I don’t mind at all the conservatives, whether in the church at large or in the pew next to me. But it doesn’t feel to me that they feel the same. I often get looks or rebuttal from conservatives if I speak up/work for change, whether in the pew, local church, at large, or on Facebook. No one has to agree with me. I do ask you respect the life experiences I offer you in conversation, written or verbal. It is the denial of these experiences that raise my hackles and lead to less than civil discourse among us.

    • Zzyzx says

      “I do ask you respect the life experiences I offer you in conversation, written or verbal. It is the denial of these experiences that raise my hackles and lead to less than civil discourse among us.”

      100% this. I can’t tell you how many times this has happened to me in various contexts. And every time it just reminds me of the title of a science-fiction story by Harlan Ellison: “I have no mouth and I must scream.”

  12. Beth Ann Cook says

    Yesterday you responded to my tweet about the Good News Statement. Here are some of my thoughts which I shared. I hope they help you understand where those who are on the other side of this issue are coming from. I try to be sincere and respectful of those who disagree with me. I hate the snark that invades the discussions of this issue on twitter. We really need to get beyond it. (I believe @daveag will testify to this.) Blessings and peace, Beth Ann

    *************

    On April 1st the Good News Board released an important statement about where we are as a denomination. I believe it is thoughtful, honest, and well written.

    It’s set off a small firestorm on social media. Well known progressive blogger Jeremy Smith yesterday expressed his opinion that Good News is fear mongering. He thinks this is more of the same and actually used the word “Yawn” in reply to my tweet.

    Truthfully this is not business as usual. This statement is very different than anything that Good News has put out in 45 years of seeking to renew the church. As someone who was in the room, I can tell you that there was a lot of gut wrenching, soul searching going on.

    The UM Reporter has an excellent interview with Tom Lambrecht addressing some of the questions that have been raised in the wake of this statement.

    I wanted to share with you a few of my thoughts with you this morning. Please note–these are my personal thoughts and not the official positions of IN CM, GN or any other renewal group.

    I choose to respect and honor those who disagree with me. I want them to do the same for me. I’m pretty sure Jesus wants that too.

    The reason this issue is so contentious and difficult is that people on both sides are sincerely seeking to serve God. Those who disagree with me believe this is a justice issue. They honestly feel that they are failing God if they do not break the UMC Book of Discipline to perform same sex unions. I deeply respect their position. I believe they are wrong. But I admire the courage of their convictions.

    Evangelicals like myself are trying to be faithful to God’s word. We have equally held, strong convictions.

    At GC2014 Adam Hamilton and Mike Slaughter proposed what they thought was a “live and let live” solution. Neither side can in good conscience adopt it. Progressives cannot stop pushing for full inclusion any more than Evangelicals can stop standing for what we believe. This is why we find ourselves in this “untenable” situation.

    I remember exactly where I was when I heard Bill Hinson use the words “amicable separation” at GC 2004. That was the first year GC was web streamed and I was standing in my kitchen listening to it. [Yeah, I know. That makes me a total metho-geek.] Like many I had a strong negative reaction to the idea of the UMC splitting.

    Since then I’ve come to understand the impasse better. People on both sides are approaching the point that Martin Luther reached when he said, “Here I stand, I can do no other. God help me, Amen.”

    I’ve been a pastor now for 15 years. In that time I have never served a church that didn’t pay 100% of it’s full tithe/apportionments. There have been times when my key lay leaders wanted to cut our denominational payments due to financial crises and/or disagreements. I’ve always advocated for paying our obligation in full. My church treasurers will tell you that I have taken pay cuts and freezes to make that happen.

    The question many of us find ourselves wresting with is this “At what point do we become complicit if we, through our giving, enable the most radical progressives on the coasts to, just ‘do their own thing’?”

    In Matthew 18:6 Jesus said “But if you cause one of these little ones who trusts in me to fall into sin, it would be better for you to have a large millstone tied around your neck and be drowned in the depths of the sea.”

    Am I, by supporting the system, causing someone to stumble?

    As long as those who disagree with me were merely advocating for a change, I wasn’t faced with this same level of moral dilemma. But this latest tactic has changed the landscape.

    The UMC does a lot of good with our apportionment dollars too. Does the good outweigh the harm? Am I able to continue to urge my church members and colleagues to pay 100%? I’m wrestling. If at some point you hear that I’ve changed my opinion on paying apportionments you will know that is why.

    In the midst of this, I pray that we will all act like Jesus-followers. Let’s assume the best about one another rather than attributing the worst possible motives to those who disagree with us.

  13. Bob Land says

    When compared to fracture, or schism, or break-up, or whatever term you may choose, “play” is merely a distinction without difference.

  14. Creed Pogue says

    I guess I have missed the “playful” aspect of Love Prevails when they disrupt UM business meetings and tell others to withhold even their prayers from those they disagree with.

    On a more serious note, the Western Jurisdiction has “played” by a different set of rules for decades. Yet, if we actually judge them by their fruits we see that they have declined so much that now the North Georgia Annual Conference alone has more members than the entire Western Jurisdiction. Also, it should not be forgotten that the rest of us subsidize the Western Jurisdiction bishops during their “play” because the WJ doesn’t even pay for its own bishops much less the central conferences and the retirees.

  15. Julie A. Arms Meeks says

    Creed, North GA is no longer growing at the pace it did even 4 years ago. Let’s not pick on the Western Jurisdiction. Even NGUMC members have packed up and transferred to the Western Jurisdiction. That says something about us (NGUMC) and the WJ.

    • Creed Pogue says

      Did any conference grow by more than 2.7% from 2008 to 2012? NGA still seems to be the fastest growing conference in the jurisdictions. In the meantime, the WJ dropped by another 2%. Ignoring, and even worse supporting and enabling, this trend is simply counter-productive. The rest of us continue to subsidize the WJ bishops who are “leading” this flock over the cliff.

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