10 Minutes After the #UMC Splits…

Brian McLaren on Unity and Schism

First noted by the Facebook Group “The New Methodists,” Ministry Matters recently had a video interview between Shane Raynor and author Brian McLaren. At the end of the interview, the conversation turned towards unity and schism in the United Methodist Church.

The Folly of Schism

Here’s the Ministry Matters article, but if you just want the video, it’s found here on Youtube starting at the 24th minute.

Like most things involving Shane Raynor, he can’t help editorializing the question he asks. But McLaren’s response is quite good.

24:33 Question from Shane Raynor:

The big question is, will the church divide, should it divide, will it stay together? I think the latest thing that has come out is Adam Hamilton from Church of the Resurrection has suggested that we have a local option. Well, you know, a local option a lot of times to United Methodists is anathema because of connectionalism and “are we becoming congregationalist?” if we do that. What is your opinion on what you’ve seen?

25:23 – Response by Brian McLaren:

I would be very sad if the denomination splits. Let me tell you one reason why. The conservatives who want nothing to do with full inclusion of LGBT people. They need to know that 10 minutes after they split, the child, the son or daughter of 10 of their pastors, in the next year will come out as LGBT. More and more of their children and grandchildren will say they don’t want to go to any church that is unwelcoming to LGBT people.

So if they think they are going to solve the problem by splitting in this way, they’re not. They will bring the problem with them and it’s not going to go away.

So there are costs to splitting and many unanticipated costs. So the question is how do you stay together? I’ll just say that Adam [Hamilton] is a brilliant person who everyone should listen to. He has a good heart and a great mind. I think the United Methodist Church has to find a way, if they are going to stay together, they’re going to have to find a way for there to be difference in option.

McLaren is referring to “A Way Forward” which has been discussed for the past few weeks on this blog. Here’s the primary entry and here’s the latest in the series on LGBT voices.

McLaren has an important point that Ben Gosden and I have made before: a split or schism will not remove LGBT persons from any non-affirming jurisdiction or segment, so they will be in this again. It is best for everyone to end the cycle now.

Don’t Be Naive

However, the final comment by McLaren at the end is sobering to this solution. Here it is at 26:42:

One more comment: Don’t be naive about the fact that there are people who have been trying to split the United Methodist Church for a long time. And there are political reasons behind this. The issue of homosexuality theologically is related to how we interpret the Bible and so on. But politically, it’s related to a lot of other things. Just don’t be naive about the political forces behind this.

Like any church that has democratic structure and representatives who determine doctrine, politics is part of our way of being. We can lambast it, we can say the caucus groups are terrible, but no amount of railing against it will change that our doctrine and polity are politically influenced and driven.

McLaren’s point is simply to be aware that politics is a driving force behind some efforts toward schism, and it’s hard to tell those who are self-serving when they rattle their sabers. Thankfully, the 80 pastors who are calling for schism will be identified in July (I believe), so we’ll know a bit more clearly from their plan of schism what motivates their actions.

What’s the Way Forward?

What do you think about McLaren’s primary argument: schism will not solve our “problem?” While I reject the language because we are talking about people, not issues or problems, McLaren is using the mindset of traditionalists with whom he has extensive contact.

I’ve heard one argument saying that the goal is not to exclude LGBT people but to change them and either through ex-gay ministries or the Texas Republican-approved reparative therapy, have them repent of their sin. Pastors do not feel they can do that if they are in a denomination with any ambiguity in it.

As our country becomes more polarized and ghettoized, living into the dissonance of the Gospel and the World becomes harder and harder for people. But I don’t think it is insurmountable. Traditionalists have lived with ambiguity regarding abortion language for several decades in our Book of Discipline and that hasn’t stopped a tremendous number of people from being Methodists. To add another aspect of Traditionalist dissonance for the sake of saving LGBT lives and having LGBT persons participate fully in the life of the church will have a tough period ahead, but it is one we can weather together so long as we authentically tell the difference between self-serving schismatics and heartfelt conservatism.

May the Spirit give us the wisdom in the days ahead to seek a more just United Methodist Church.


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  1. Bert Bagley says

    I am not sure who the 80 plus pastors are but to call them self-serving is not fair. For years, those who are on the far left have also been at least in my opinion self-serving. Both extremes need to stop the name calling and look for a way forward. We are headed toward nothing but pain and confusion. How does that build the kingdom?

    • says

      Bert, I’d agree that labeling the 80 individuals as self-serving isn’t helpful. However, it is not helpful the actions they are pushing for as a group. Unless they shed the anonymous moniker they have to be lumped into a grouping and, in ways, that label can fit. But I’d also agree the extreme liberal can, at times, be given the same label. In this case they cannot, they haven’t been arguing for a schism or break, they want to stay together. Those who didn’t care for that have already left.

    • AO says

      For Bert Begley: I appreciate and share your weariness of name-calling from any corner, but to be clear, the writer did not call the 80 pastors “self- serving”; the writer called them and their motivations unknown: “Thankfully, the 80 pastors who are calling for schism will be identified in July (I believe), so we’ll know a bit more clearly from their plan of schism what motivates their actions.”
      The writer later leaves for future discernment: “.. as we authentically tell the difference between self-serving schismatics and heartfelt conservatism.”

  2. Mark McRoberts says

    Finally this is the first time that the conservatives have said what the actually want to have the UMC do. They want to require all gay people to go to “re-education camps and be changed through reparative therapy.” This happen over 50 years ago when Nazis tried to get rid of gay people in the holocaust. Reparative therapy is all about extinguishing the lives of gay people by damaging their psyche so much that they commit suicide or they die in the re-education camps. Bottom line is that the conservatives want DEATH to all gay people. They think that just by making death slow and painful by reparative therapy rather than by stoning which is more biblical but would be messy to stone people in church. DEATH DEATH DEATH is how conservatives in the UMC wants to fix the LGBT issue within the United Methodist Church.

  3. Rev. Sarah Flynn says

    The best solution I have read so far suggested that instead of geographic jurisdictions that the UMC General Conference create two nongeographic jurisdictions, one progressive and the other conservative. Those matters which fall along the lines of this divide would be the responsibility of the respective jurisdictional conferences. Those general matters upon which there is still agreement would be the responsibility of General Conference. If this worked well and good. If it didn’t, you would already have the basis for a full split without so much legal hassling. Annual Conferences could vote as to which of the two jurisdictions to join. Those in the minority could withdraw and relate to the opposing jurisdiction. This would eventually lead to the redrawing of conference boundaries, but it would be a less painful process than leaving the matter to each individual congregation.

  4. Andrew says

    FYI, the next Jurisdictional and General Conferences of the UMC are in 2016 (they track alongside the U.S. Presidential election years and also the Summer Olympics). I really doubt we’ll get reliable data collection from all of this year’s Annual Conferences. There are always so many other items on the agenda that the individual conferences need to deal with; therefore the LGBT debate will most likely have already been tabled and forwarded to GC/JC for the Bishops in two years. Fight the good fight, sure; but, be nice to each other!

  5. Martha Myre says

    On June 10, Good News Magazine published an open letter to Adam Hamilton and Mike Slaughter. It has a long list of signers. http://goodnewsmag.org/2014/06/an-open-letter-to-revs-adam-hamilton-and-michael-slaughter/ I would venture to say that a number of them are a part of the much-maligned 80.

    I would also like to say that I know some of those 80 (including some who did not sign the aforementioned letter). They love the church and they do not have some hidden agenda. From what I understand the group does not agree on all issues so while they are having conversation it makes no sense to post a list of names. They will be public if and when statements are made that they support. In the mean time, given the current climate in the UMC, they would be considered “guilty” by association simply by being in conversation and therefore (in my opinion) would be wise NOT to make their names known.

    • says

      I’m perfectly happy for those folks to not be named and to come back into the fold before their demands are posted. The fewer churches that go with the schismatics, the better.

  6. says

    What’s disturbing about these calls for schism is what fueled all the raw emotion of the World Vision saga. And that is the idea that the exclusion and/or forced “repentance” of LGBT people is more important than the ministries of the Church. That people would rather split the UMC, in spite of the many global ministries and causes that are benefitted by our unity, is disturbing. I’m upset that some are so willing to rend the Church rather than allow some portions of it to fully include LGBT people. It’s almost as if those folks regard gays as some sort of contagion that must be stopped at all costs.


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