An image in Harry Potter gives a lens to view how schismatic powers are so close to victory in United Methodism and may get their final component to their plan this week…maybe even today.
In the Harry Potter universe, horcruxes are what gave the Lord Voldemort his terrifying power. They were aspects of himself enchanted into ordinary objects that hidden away in various corners of the world. These diverse enchanted objects allowed him to overcome death and enhance his power. Part of Harry Potter and other good wizards’ mission became to find and destroy these enchanted items. Only when they were all destroyed could Lord Voldemort be ultimately defeated…by the Boy Who Lived.
This image came to mind recently because it’s the best description of what is going on in The United Methodist Church. One side of the church that seeks schism has been collecting the elements needed for the effort to have staying power this time…and this week, they could get their final piece.
The final item…
We know where the elements for schism are because they have told us through their academic leaders. The problem with academics is that they write about everything and don’t usually keep information hidden for tactical decisions by advocates and caucus group employees. If you want to know more about a movement, read their academic thought leaders’ works…or this blog, because I do.
For the groups most adamantly working for schism, their primary thought leaders have been Dr. Tom Oden, a fellow Oklahoman, and Dr. Billy Abraham. And both indicate for us today what necessary element is missing.
First, Dr. Oden, previously featured here and here, indicates in his book Turning Around The Mainline that bishops have the power to overturn the Trust Clause, which would allow individual churches to leave the denomination with their property (which is just held in trust by the local churches–they don’t own it alone), though the annual conference boards of trustees. He dedicates the entire last third of the book to property issues, but here’s the key claim.
If the trust clause is violated by the local church, the property can, through due process, revert to the Annual Conference Board of Trustees (page 227)
In my memory, there’s actually a historical allusion to a Bishop who remitted the property deeds of an entire conference back to the local churches. I can’t find the reference, but perhaps a reader can recall what I cannot.
Second, Dr. Abraham’s contention in his manifesto written post-General Conference 2016 that there’s a secret cabal of conservative Bishops waiting to take over when the time is right. While Abraham’s writing is unsubstantiated other than rumors and “trust me” claims, it does indicate a hinge point in overcoming progressivism is division of the Council of Bishops:
Conservative bishops may be tongue-tied and prudent for now, but this is merely a temporary reality. Once the dam breaks and, say, division emerges, they will come out of the shadows…it would be easy to name a handful who will rise to the occasion and own the leadership they are more than capable of exercising. the details at this point are obscure; the bis picture is clear.
In summary, bishops are incredibly important in standing against or enabling schism. According to Oden, a single bishop can remit the entire annual conference’s trust clauses back to the local churches so they can leave the denomination with their property intact. So who is elected this week matters very much.
…To Join the Others
The other elements of schism have either been around a while or have recently emerged. Through the Mission Society (1984 parallel to the General Board of Global Missions), Bristol House Books (1987 parallel to Abingdon), and the RENEW network (1989 supplemental program to UM Women), traditionalists created their own parallel alternative structure that provides books, women’s fellowship, and missionaries for congregations to support outside of United Methodist oversight, accountability, or connectional leadership. (see more here).
These were followed by many more in 2012-2016. The Methodist Crossroads (2014), Seedbed (2012 – which later took the ashes of Bristol Books under its wings), New Room Conference (2014 – to sell Seedbed books & promote their speakers), and now the Wesleyan Covenant Association (2016–my writeup on this group is next week) offer parallel structures to United Methodism.
What’s the purpose of all these? While various in goals and methods, one benefit of these elements is to make a schism as seamless as possible for the average laity and to claim that the soul of United Methodism has already been split off and enchanted into these alternative structures. They answer the question of “what do we lose in Schism?” with “Nothing…kinda.”
- Worried about losing global missions connections? We have the Mission Society!
- Women’s fellowship without the pesky mission focus? We have RENEW!
- Books beyond Cokesbury? We have Seedbed!
- Conferences that share resources? We have the New Room Conference to sell Seedbed books and promote our authors!
As Pensions Become Wespath…what are they seeing?
And finally, we see that this week, the General Board of Pensions and Health Benefits has renamed itself “Wespath” as if our pensions officers too want to position themselves to offer pensions and health services to whatever denominations might come forth. While I don’t believe they are actively seeking schism, they are the best paid executives in Methodism so they are not blind to the forces at work.
The march to schism is driven by both deeply held values and…market savvy. In our current era of hyper-individualism and our ability to choose our news, neighborhoods, and church such to avoid and dissonance, there’s plenty of appeal for alternative structures that remove dissonance as well and cater to our already held beliefs.
What they need now is the ability for local churches to leave United Methodism with enough resources to sustain the alternative infrastructure. This is the final component to sustain this alternative infrastructure and the owners who have ran it for decades and trained others in their place.
The Trust Clause that Lived
This final component was almost crafted at General Conference 2016. Major efforts to remove the trust clause and to allow for articles of disaffiliation were resoundingly defeated in committee, and no amount of behind-closed-doors wrangling changed that.
Beyond the failed legislative option lies the executive branch of United Methodism in the form of the Bishops, 1/4 of their body is up for election this week (starting today). If we take what Abraham and Oden have said is true, then a 25% swing in votes could empower this alleged group or simply elect bishops willing to give up the farm.
So you can see how these elections matter very much not only to the different regions but also to United Methodism as a whole.
The Power Is Yours…if you are at a JC
As bishop candidates are nominated, interviewed, raised up from the floor, and ultimately elected at jurisdictional conferences, my hope is that you ask which episcopal candidates are endorsed by those conservative evangelical groups most vocal in support of schism.
Then ask yourself whether the depositing of generations of Methodist money and property into the alternative structures outside of United Methodist accountability is our best future. Then vote for those who are the right people to care for the whole of United Methodism’s soul as an entire movement seeks to tear it apart piece by piece. We know how badly that ended in Harry Potter, and I would lament the same for our Church.
The choice is yours. Thoughts?
Thanks for reading and for your shares on social media…and especially to those delegates at Jurisdictional Conferences today.