Schism? Where do the Progressives go? Nowhere.

If Progressive Methodists cannot imagine life outside the Wesleyan perspective, then there is nowhere else for them to go except to continue to reform the United Methodist Church.

wesleyan-churches

The Wesleyan branches of the Christian Family Tree

In the Wesleyan section of the Christian family tree, there are many branches. As discussed earlier this year, Wesleyanism encompasses Methodism, Nazarene, Pentecostalism, Free Methodism, the Salvation Army, and many other smaller denominations. In fact, the World Methodist Council encompasses 80 denominations with 8 in the continental US alone. There has historically been some movement (schisms, mergers, and transfers) of individuals and churches between these denominations.

So the relevant question is: If progressive Methodists found the United Methodist Church to be impossibly hostile to LGBT inclusion, where would they go?

The answer is not easy to hear: no American Wesleyan denomination allows for LGBT inclusion. The closest is our neighbors to the North as United Church of Canada churches can officiate same-gender unions on a church-by-church basis through the Affirming Church program. But the large American swath of the Free Methodists, Nazarenes, Pentecostals, etc does not allow for it. Even expanding the fuller Wesleyan circle to the relatively-recent conversations between Wesleyan Holiness churches yields zero churches for full inclusion.

In conclusion, The United Methodist Church is the closest to the progressive edge of Wesleyanism (and by extension, all of Evangelicalism), in part by its narrow margin (from 60/40 to 52/48 vote spreads since 2000) on the debate over LGBT inclusion.

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Options for Progressive Methodists

Framed in this way, seeing where United Methodism lies on the spectrum of Wesleyanism gives a clearer response for the two most common courses of action suggested by Traditionalists to Progressives.

1. Why don’t you leave and join with other like-minded progressives in other denominations?

The historical form of this is “if you affirm the gays, get out and join the UCC” which has admittedly been a standard practice for decades. Many of my LGBT clergy friends have found open ministry in the UCC and Episcopal denominations (and now Presby/Lutherans too), and yes, I’m glad for them.

However, I believe this is not an acceptable argument for Progressives who value Wesleyanism and have the privilege to stay.While other denominations will facilitate the Wesleyan perspective, it is not systematically taught and lived out across any progressive denomination. Yes, I affirm other denominations’ own integrity, and their own understanding of Truth. But they do not have what I claim as my lens and do not cherish my lens the same way that the United Methodist Church does.

I refuse to give up Wesleyanism and to cede the entirety of Wesleyan thought away from Progressive values. I believe Wesleyanism has more potential than being wedded to social policies that will not stand the test of time.

2. Why don’t Progressives leave and start their own Wesleyan denomination?

The more common refrain these days is for progressives to leave and form their own version of the Methodist church. But it would be unjust to ghettoize Methodism further and remove progressive voices from international and local discussions in the successor to United Methodism. As articulated over and over on this blog, schism does not solve the problem within Wesleyanism and removing a progressive voice would lead to more harm–not less–for the average Methodist.

Indeed, one has only to look how other minorities have faired in the Episcopal Church turmoil: the breakaway Texas faction of the TEC stopped ordaining women and set back decades of equality. If progressives leave to form their own Wesleyan denomination, it stands to reason that clergy women would become endangered, as it just happened: in 2013.

In conclusion, with the knowledge that we are the most progressive that Wesleyanism has in its current state, some answers to those typical questions become more clear: there is nowhere else that embraces Wesleyanism and progressive thought more so than the United Methodist Churcheven at the moment as it continues to deny LGBT inclusion. It’s our church too: why are we continually pushed to give it up when there’s literally nowhere else to go?

For those that have the privilege and ability to stay within the United Methodist Church, my hope is that they stay and fight for the future. As a straight white full Elder serving in a progressive conference, I am called to use my privilege to advocate for a better church than the one I was baptized and ordained into.

 

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 The Call to Endure

You can see why these years ahead of us in the United Methodist Church are so critical.

To the Traditionalists, the UMC is a firewall. If LGBT inclusion becomes part of Methodism, then not only has that part of the human condition become accepted by the mainline church, but also a church that is historically and firmly within the evangelical faith. No wonder parachurch organizations like the IRD use this fear for effective fundraising. And one has only to look at the extent to which evangelicals are railing against Matthew Vines to see how scared they are of one of their own embracing the fullness of the human condition.

But to the Progressives, the UMC is the fulcrum. It has the potential to move the entirety of Christendom as it weds progressive values with the Wesleyan perspective in authentic ways. It sits at the fulcrum of an evangelistic faith that believes in ways recognizable to both science and religion. We’ve already moved in that direction by embracing women in ministry and by rejecting colonialism by allowing global church a full vote in matters relating to their areas (though we need more work in that area to make it more equitable when it comes to the USA). We allow for reasonable solutions involving divorce and abortion and offer no prohibitions against transgender clergy. We’ve got a ton of work to do around LGBT inclusion, but…let’s face it: we’re the cutting edge, and we have credibility to both mainline and evangelical camps.

The world will be bettered by a Wesleyan perspective that embraces the whole of humanity. And I believe the Church will be bettered by those ecclesial objectors and progressive insiders who stand firm and advocate from within the United Methodist Church, changing hearts and minds one person, church, conference, and continent at a time.

I know perseverance works because of our history. The Wesleyan world is bettered by those progressives who did not leave the UMC over women’s ordination and now we are the largest American denomination that ordains women. Across the world we ordain women. Do we want to turn back the clock like the TEC’s breakaway factions?

So we stay. We fight. We advocate. We agitate. We pray. We talk. We coexist as Methodism 2.0. We persevere because one day the Church and World will find the same value that I do in a Wesleyan theology that is fused with progressive understanding of the human condition and lived out in missional ways.

And when that happens, I want you in that church. Standing next to me.

Thoughts?

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Comments

  1. says

    As someone who has come to truly embrace Wesleyan Theology over the years, I’d have to say you’re spot on. There is no good place for those who seem themselves as both Progressive and radically moderate to go. Many of us who came to the UMC out of a conservative evangelical background because it offered us a safe haven and had a very similar theology have found ourselves increasingly on the margins but we know of no other place we’d rather be.

    I’d also point out that the Arminian theology of the UMC, which I find foundational to Wesleyanism, is not truly embraced by our brothers and sisters in other mainline denominations. While I respect and appreciate their traditions, I know this theology would make many uncomfortable.

    I’ve also had quite a few friends who left conservative evangelicalism and went to the UCC and the Epsicopal church. Many of them have found their evangelical spirit was often questioned and it has caused many problems for them. (This is not to say those streams are not present in either one of these groups. I’ve seen them. It is, however, not as prevalent as it is in the UMC.)

    So, until the UMC says it doesn’t want me as a minister, I will keep going forward while praying and working for change in my own corner of the denomination.

    Thanks for an excellent article.

  2. Holly Boardman says

    I propose an alternative. Let’s choose to sell off our buildings, give the money to the poor, and begin class meetings in homes. Let’s hold a worship service celebrating the good the United Methodist Church has accomplish, and then CHOOSE to disband the corporation of this dysfunctional organization. We can then “hit the streets” with the Gospel message unburdened by selfish concerns for building maintenance, and institutional survival. Let’s let go of professional paid clergy, buildings, an organizational structure modeled after the US government and best practices of American business. Let’s begin again.

    • says

      It is human nature to organize and to accomplish as a collective more than we can accomplish on our own. It is human wisdom to use the resources of the Empire to our advantage (starting with the trade routes across Europe and China). While I understand people that reject the collective organized way of doing church, it is not anathema to the Gospel or ineffective in American society.

      • Holly Boardman says

        “What does it profit a man (or woman) to gain the whole world and lose his/her soul?” I am inclined to leave it all behind at this point for the sake of my own salvation.

  3. says

    I’ve really enjoyed the musings and thought provocation found here Jeremy. It is amazing that people fall into the fray of believing our most opportune option is to leave, split, do our own thing. When has that EVER been good for the common wealth of those involved?!

    I particularly like the fulcrum comparison as I do see this to be an obvious truth which lies before us, whether many would own up to and accept it or not. Methodists historically have been “trendsetters” and history makers as you well know…the world, the church God calls us to be and so many who need our backing, love, and support are wanting, waiting, and wondering when a united voice will speak out and up **officially**.

    Why we continue to “limp between twoopinions” is beyond me.

    Guess it takes some a little longer…

  4. Scott says

    It’s such a complex issue. For example, some of the smaller denominations which eventually merged to form the (eventual) UMC were *already* ordaining women but at some point(s) gave it up in mergers. It’s not fair historically to say the UMC (or even the ME and MES) was the one who ordained women. Women were ordained and served long before 1956.

    One of the reasons the Free Methodists split from the Methodist Episcopal Church was over the issue of slavery. They took a stand long before the MEC. To be sure, there were other issues as well. Did the Free Methodists suffer because they split? Do we mourn their loss today from the UMC? We can obviously argue the pros and cons.

    I’m just not convinced that we must avoid a split *at all costs*

    Would a new progressive Methodist denomination have a place within the World Methodist Council? The NCC and WCC? If so, we would not lose our voice in ecumenical circles on a national and global level.

    I think the history of ordaining women in the ECUSA is also muddled. As I understand it, certain bishops and dioceses never ordained women (or there was a period in which they were allowed to continue not ordaining them.) Are there really voices within the leadership of United Methodism that do not want to ordain women? Even Asbury Seminary believes in full equality of women in leadership in the church. I would be greatly surprised if that ever changes.

    If there were a split, I would imagine some progressives would stay put in the UMC. Just as African-Americans remained in the ME and MES churches despite the rise of the AME, AMEZ, CME, etc. While honoring those who stayed during years of oppression, including the horrendous Central Jurisdiction, today we honor and are in official relationship with our sisters and brothers in the AME, AMEZ, and CME.

    Just some thoughts… to muddy the waters….

    • says

      I think it is fascinating about the TEC and women’s ordination conversation. If those dioceses didn’t ordain women in the first place, then it’s not applicable. But if they did and rescinded it…wow. In 2013.

  5. says

    Excellent article. Thank you, Jeremy.
    Eventually The United Methodist Church will be on the right side of history. The UMC has completely discarded Biblical support of slavery and Biblical prohibitions against women speaking in church or having authority over men.

    Institutionalized discrimination is wrong. Ultimately the UMC will discard prohibitions against same-gender relationships and get back on track…
    Making Disciples of Jesus Christ for the Transformation of the World.

    You’re blessed when you stay on course,
    walking steadily on the road revealed by God.
    You’re blessed when you follow his directions,
    doing your best to find him.
    That’s right—you don’t go off on your own;
    you walk straight along the road he set.
    - Psalm 119:1-8 MSG

  6. Robert Monger says

    This has been a tough one for me and has taken a lot of prayer and soul searching. Scripture appears to condemn same sex unions but on closer inspection the focus is more on licentiousness than union. My opinion on that will probably change as it already has many times—
    But I do know this: God did not mean for man (humans) to go through life alone–and to force someone to live that way because it assails my sensibilities would indeed be a sin before both God and man. Nowhere on my birth or baptismal certificates does it say I have been given the right to judge my fellow travelers here on planet earth.
    So, it looks like we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us before we can all say we’re comfortable in our Methodist skin.
    See you at conference!
    Bob Monger
    Carlin UMC Carlin, Nevada

  7. Karl Kroger says

    Having been involved at the general church level, and pastoring a local church…I’m pretty invested in how things play out. To be quite honest, I too am not particularly interested in abandoning Wesleyan theology for another denomination or nor do I want to be in some sort of liberal or conservative UMC split.

    I want to maintain our progressive and evangelical tension (along with all of our other Wesleyan tensions). Unfortunately, the tension of advocating change and remaining in the status quo is challenging and vulnerable to critique from all sides.

    Things are changing…and while I’m so so sorry for all of today’s victims, I genuinely believe, the longer we can keep her steady, the better off we’ll be in the end, for everyone. If conservatives ever breakaway, the longer we prevent them from doing so, the less people will go with them.

    • says

      Karl (and Jeremy):
      I like what you’re selling here, and (acknowledging my privilege) I do think that the longer we can hold on, the less conflict we have when full inclusion inevitably happens.

      That said, the specific question I keep asking is this: what about the cultural divide between those United Methodists in the USA and those folks in the central conferences (particularly in Africa)? As the African segment church continues to grow in power–and as there are family members of General Conference delegates telling them that if the church’s stance on homosexuality is to change, they are not to come home, how can we do anything but fight? It seems to me the larger question of polity–and the way we get through this particular morass–is something we’re not talking about as much as we ought.

      This isn’t to cut into your argument, Jeremy. I think you’re spot-on. And it’s my prayer that we don’t dismantle the ship during this particular storm (since the storm is the precise time you need the hull to hold together!)

  8. Morris Floyd says

    What is it precisely about “Wesleyan theology” that demands such allegiance? I understand the practical aspects of Jeremy’s discussion, but not the theological rationale.

    • says

      The basic tenets of Wesleyanism: threefold stages of grace, means of grace, four sources of authority (commonly called the quadrilateral) and historic commitment to social justice issues. These are as intrinsic to me as breath.

      As Derek White articulated in the first comment, the evangelical practice of ministry is not as welcome in some other denominations that would otherwise be strong theological matches.

      • Scott says

        Wesley’s understanding of grace really isn’t all that unique. Episcopalians have the three pieces (scripture, tradition, reason) of our quadrilateral (and even in our own UM tradition there is debate over precisely the meaning of “experience”) AND we are certainly not the only tradition with a commitment to social justice. Given those facts, I myself personally grapple with what it means to be “Wesleyan”

  9. says

    Jeremy,

    Thank you for your insightful and though provoking words! Admittedly, as I serve as a full Elder in an extension ministry setting (US Army Chaplaincy) I often feel as though I’m sitting on the sidelines of a knockdown drag-out of a theological/ideological fight within our denomination. I hate to echo the old cliche of “Can’t we all just get along?” but seriously…can’t we? In all of this talk about schism there seems to be little talk of a reasonable middle way, which is staunchly Wesleyan, is it not? There must be some vaguely gray middle ground that all sides could come together on. Anyways, thanks again for such a wonderfully well thought out post!

    Grace and peace,
    CH Echols

  10. Elke Sharma says

    Exactly spot on, Jeremy! Thank you for articulating this so clearly. I’m not sure about the women’s ordination issue. Are our conservative UMC colleagues really likely to turn and tell clergywomen we are not welcome? I would like to think and hope not. But the rest of it, yes, Amen.

    • says

      The rest of the country has some varied perceptions. There’s a number of churches in my former conference (Oklahoma) that have rejected female pastors.

  11. Txcon says

    How ironic that at at the very moment we are contemplating and discussing schism, Patriarch Bartholomew I and Pope Francis have announced a scheduled meeting in Jerusalem to discuss ending the millenium-old divide between the Catholic and Orthodox churches.

  12. andreas says

    No sir, you are not called to advocate for a better church. Your vows clearly state that you have inspected the doctrines of the church and found them to be in concordance with the Bible…and to keep them not for the sake of wrath but for the sake of conscience.

    • says

      By that rationale, all delegates to General Conference and advocates for change should resign every four years as they seek to see how the Bible and Doctrines interrelate.

      Per the Ordinal, my vows state:

      Are you persuaded that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments contain all things necessary for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ and are the unique and authoritative standard for the church’s faith and life?

      Will you be loyal to The United Methodist Church, accepting its order, liturgy, doctrine, and discipline, defending it against all doctrines contrary to God’s Holy Word, and committing yourself to be accountable with those serving with you, and to the bishop and those who are appointed to supervise your ministry?

      Every aspect of what I wrote in the above blog post correlates with my desire to advocate for a better church.

  13. Billy Pilgrim says

    As you know, throughout church history there has been a constant need to reform the church. In many cases this has meant creating new holiness gatherings or organizations apart from the already established denominations because those denominations are static in their structures and doctrine. It may be time for the UMC to split (or for some to leave) because the current structure has proven itself ineffective in moving towards full inclusion. And aside from the GLBT kerfuffle, the denomination has a number of issues that the current structure encourages (guaranteed appointments for apathetic clergy, the snowball of irrelevancy that grows with each generation, owning property where we shouldn’t own property… to name a few).

    I am all for changing the system from within, but I fear that the current polity won’t allow it anytime soon. As a wise midwest derelict once said, “the problem ain’t the system’s broke, but that it’s working too well.”

    Eventually, of course, the UMC will come around to fully include GLBT persons – whether in 10 years or 25 years – not because of a sudden change in reasoning of scripture, but because the rest of society will have already beat us to the punch. Rather than being leaders on the GLBT front, the denomination will be attempting to save face. And my fear at that point is that many generations will have already been alienated by a church that appeared old fashioned and out of touch in many respects. It may be time for some progressives to shake the dust from their feet and move on. I am fairly certain this is the path I will eventually take in 2014.

  14. says

    Beware what you wish for, Jeremy. The law of unintended consequences is a beast – and the church won’t be able to afford all the good things progressives love (as we should) like boards, agencies, missions, and ministries if the progressive version of obedience-as-disobedience chases away a critical mass of the healthy and growing churches.

    I do not wish to be a church that would drive away the progressives or the conservatives; I think it is to our benefit to a be a big tent. But the way the progressive activists are behaving, with the active or passive backing of many leaders in the church, is going to undo that if something does not give.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Allowing a female pastor is still an issue after almost 60 years of women’s full ordination in the Methodist Church. There are churches that reject female clergy and when they are sent there by the Bishop as an example, it gets really painful. I’ve followed female clergy and seen church members return after leaving the church during the female pastors’ term. And yet during all these years, the connectional commitment to women’s ordination has not changed and the polity has not changed. So a polity change like this is not likely to do so either. Ironically, in the schismatic 80, losing women’s ordination would be more likely and with recent historical precedent. […]

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