We must love them both, those with whom we agree, and those with whom we disagree. For both have labored in the search of truth, and both have helped in the finding of it.
~ Saint Thomas Aquinas
Every year after General Conference, the topic comes up again: schism, or amicable separation, will solve our church debates over the inclusion of LGBT people in the life of the church. It’s a popular topic and comes in like the tide for two years after GCs and then goes out about 2 years before GCs. Given it has been a year since the last GC, we are right on track to keep talking about it.
Schism is a popular topic here at Hacking Christianity too. Since 2008, our assertion for the United Methodist Church has always come down on the negative: Schism won’t solve our church problems. To facilitate and not repeat ourselves, here’s a top ten list of reasons (and blog posts) why Schism doesn’t (and won’t) solve problems within the United Methodist Church.
- Schism assumes the problems before us are intractable and unsolvable, which is an unfaithful response to the Holy Spirit. There is no problem too big for the Holy Spirit and faithful Christians.
- 2013 article: “Reply to Ted Campbell RE: Schism“
- Schism will NOT end ecclesial discrimination against LGBT people–it just leaves future generations having to deal with the same issue. While gridlock and injustice are part of our current system, they are more destructive if they are given the ability to run free.
- 2012 article: “About that UMReporter Article…“
- Schism creates echo-chambers of like-minded churches who just grow more and more extreme in their unopposed views. Better is for two sides to remain in the family together to moderate the other side towards a holistic approach.
- 2008 article: “Why Connectionalism Matters
- Schism negates to honor the reality is that our UMC functions with wide diversity already. There is a tension between chaos and control–schism removes that tension and allows both to run rampant instead of the Holy Spirit guiding us towards a better third way together.
- 2012 article: “Is the UMC the Rebellion or the Empire?“
- Schism is a false hope that a more perfect church can be created by cutting out dissension. While we are called to be onward towards perfection, the idea that a split creates a more perfect/less perfect dichotomy is false.
- 2008 article: “My Church Isn’t Perfect“
- Schism FAILS every point of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral–including Scripture, for you Wesleyan Originalists out there. While amicable separation can seem tempting, it doesn’t pass the Methodist smell test.
- 2012 article: “You need a left wing and a right wing to fly“
- Schism seeks to end the tension between doctrinal purity and missional relevance, but fails. There can be space in the UMC for both those who place doctrine above the human condition and those who place the human condition above doctrine.
- 2009 article: “Two Track Methodism: Doctrinal and Missional“
- Schism over HUGE theological debates such as Just War Theory hasn’t happened…why can’t it have a Just Sexuality Theory model as well? While the article below is old and has some valid criticisms, I do think it is an interesting parallel.
- 2010 article: “From Just War to Just Sexuality?”
- Schism fails to recognize logical, reasoned, and biblically-grounded ways to be a unity in diversity. Neither side has a lock on biblical and spiritual guidance for the church.
- 2012 article: “You need two wings and understanding to fly“
- Schism has not solved our historical issues–but mergers have. In our church’s history, social questions about African-American and female clergy have been solved by mergers, not by schisms. Really!
- 2012 article: “Schism? Please. Mergers actually solve church problems“
This blog’s stance against schism puts us at odds with both Traditionalists who want to carve out dissenters and Progressives who want to end ecclesial discrimination. But our motives are the same: we all want change and we want it to come more quickly than it is. Schism may solve problems quickly, but it is a band-aid not a systematic regimen. It papers over our issues with different names instead of addressing root issues. It grants space for novel forms of ministry, but removes common resources to make those novel forms more replicable and adaptive. In short, schism ghettoizes a church that may be the world’s best chance to model what diversity without enmity might look like.
But let us be clear: opposition to schism does not mean support of the status quo. While the status quo justifies an unjust system, this blog has actively worked to create better systems and to think out what better ways of life together might be helpful. What a church with a uniform mission but a diverse way of living out that mission might look like. While unity is a shallow altar and ought not define what our obedience to the Gospel looks like, taking our toys and going home doesn’t solve it either. Better to be pragmatic and do the discernment together. The status quo is a failed model, and it is our hope that a new common model of ministry and mission will emerge–not in spite of tension, but through it.
Thoughts? Thanks to those of you also participating in our synchblog today!
If those of us who have chosen to be reconciling congregations were allowed to ordain gay clergy and marry same-sex couples perhaps we could remain unified and in discussion while working together on what we do agree on.If not I fear we will have no choice but to split.
Jon Altman As I said elsewhere, there is a VERY conservative Elder in my (Mississippi) Conference and a VERY liberal clergy in a Western Jurisdiction Conference who favor “amicable separation.” The irony of this escapes them both.
Jon Altman I’ve got WAY too much going on to write a blog post on this subject, but I have a few observations. The other time there was a major schism among the Methodists the subject of controversy was slavery. There are some QUITE significant differences between the division over slavery in the mid-19th century and division over sexuality in the early 21st. 1. Most important-the economy of the United States (North and South) are not bound up with homosexuality. 2. The division in U.S. culture over homosexuality is primarily generational, rather than regional. There were not any “20 and 30 something” Southerners advocating the abolition of slavery in the 1840’s. A “fifty something” like myself who would like to see the UMC adopt a more “open” stance toward people of different sexual orientation have seen our allies among the generation of our children grow.
Jon Altman There is another issue: The relation of U.S. UM’s with “2/3 world UM’s.” I really don’t think we will be willing to indefinitely give that group of UM’s a “veto” of what we in the U.S. deem appropriate for our context.
Jon Altman Jeremy, you have my permission to use my remarks in the “Dream UMC” conversation tonight. I’ll be at my daughter’s piano recital.
Jon Altman My actual children are 19 and 16. They don’t even “get” what the controversy is about. Most polling indicates that this is the opinion of nearly all their age peers.
I guess the one thing I keep coming back to is the Kingdom of God. I have a deep sense of loyalty to Jesus and the work of the Kingdom. For me the question isn’t about schism or no schism it is about what is the best way we can be on the forefront of working in God’s Kingdom. I don’t think by going one way or the other on the sexuality debate we are suddenly going to get an influx of people wanting to be methodists. My question is more what is the best structure for methodism to be Kingdom oriented. I have no idea if that is a schism or a fracture or many denominations or a communion or one denomination.
To me, the whole point is, “In short, schism ghettoizes a church that may be the world’s best chance to model what diversity without enmity might look like. ” A major reason that I joined the UMC is that it accommodated a wide variety of opinions on a large number of topics within the denomination. I didn’t have to stand in lockstep with everyone else in order to be a part of the community. Now, it’s the LGBT issue, an important issue, but one among many important in the world. What’s the next dividing issue? Just war? The use of Bio-fuels that reduce carbon footprint vs. causing the world’s poor to starve because the resulting increased prices of food? Sometimes it seems that we’ve become a one note tune when there are so many other issues that affect millions of people around the world.
I agree with your thesis of broad inclusivity and started a forum some years ago called “United Methodist Church Unofficial Layman’s Open Forum.”
The mission of this website is to provide an open discussion forum in service to my United Methodist Church, to elevate the voice of laity, and to help prepare readers with inner strength to embrace epic, transformative events fearlessly in love, compassion, tolerance and wisdom.*
*Wisdom: means to function in useful mode in free will balance in positive/negative to humbly and lovingly serve a positive polarity in service-to-others with frequent mindful anchorage in the harbor of Christ Consciousness.
I strongly disagree:
You choose to frame the question with these words, “Every year after General Conference, the topic comes up again: schism, or amicable separation, will solve our church debates over the inclusion of LGBT people in the life of the church. ” You could have said and perhaps more accurately, “Every year after General Conference, the topic comes up again: schism, or amicable separation, will solve our church debates over whether to reverse our historic position and begin to condone homosexual behavior and sex with multiple partners of either gender and thus eliminate the standards of fidelity and chastity for all of our people in the life of the church.”
I don’t have a lot of time either like your other commenter to continue to state some other points of reason in what has become an ancient and fruitless argument in the UMC. But let me list one more now that I have commented on the way you chose to frame the debate.
1. Who says the Holy Spirit can’t use amiable separations? We are products as U.M.s of church separations in a couple of forms from the Church of England to being Protestants. I think we have grieved the Holy Spirit by wasting 40 years and not focusing on Kingdom issues while the church continues to head towards the cliff and as Dr. Lovett Weems tells us in, “The Coming Death Tsunami”. ( http://www.churchleadership.com/Updates/110504Update.asp)
The folks who want to change the historic positions have demanded and received our attention and resources for four decades. It’s time to stop the madness. We are two different religions, not people who agree to disagree. Think what a friendly and fair separation could do to set people free to move on and do God’s work as they see fit? Imagine how motivated pastors and churches would feel to know they are rowing in the same direction rather than waiting for the next fight in an attitude of mistrust.
I can understand why UMNS had your piece in their daily news email because it fits their hopes and desires. Maybe they will list others who would be willing to detail the benefits of a friendly separation as well.
I apologize for the drive by comment but it seems ironic to me that a Protestant church body is agonizing over the idea of “schism”. Seems about 500 years too late for that doesn’t it?
A Roman Catholic.
I find the schism question sort of intriguing, but I suspect that we mostly frame the question inaccurately. The schism question in the US will certainly be solved by time/demographics.
As that happens, the really big schism question will arise. A unified church in the west may struggle even more with our counterparts in other places in the world. Will we then attempt to use economic pressure to get our way?
Rev. Steve Clunn
Brother Jeremy, I agree with you on most things and i’m still unsure about my own views on schism, you know me well enough to know that… and I do agree with most of what you say about schism… here are the buts… 1) The Methodist denomination is a creation of schism itself, from the Church of England. 2) While schism has never solved any social issue, it has allowed time for people with entrenched contradictory beliefs the ability to do ministry as they felt called until they both reached a point were the difference was no longer an issue (ie. Methodist Protestant division over governance and polity, and the North/South split over slavery) and unity could be restored through merging back together. Unfortunately some schisms end in newly seperated denominations going in their own way and growing so far apart that they simply cannot come back together (Wesleyan and Free Methodists are examples of this). There are also those who have split in our tradition that we may one day be able to merge back together with, but ongoing racism and white priviledge have yet to be adequately addressed to make an equitable merger between AME, CME, AME Zion and the UMC a real possibility. I think the broader question we need to be asking is this: Is the harm that continues to be done to our congregants and congregations in the name of Disciplinary obedience tolerable enough to stay, or do we need a split inorder to make the possibilities of healing and continued ministry as God’s people in the Weslyean tradition a real possibility again? If the pain has grown too great for too many and the general UMC is unwilling to admit disagreement in belief and allow for variations in the local practice of ministry, then the answer is schism and the hope is that it would not become perminent. I believe we need our LGBTQ brothers and sisters to lead us in answering the first part of this question and then do what we feel called by God to do. Sometimes, as unfortunate and sad as it is, you need a Barnabas conference inorder to follow the ministry of God’s calling… it’s beginning to look like “therefore go” may become a more revlatory theme for 2016 than any of us could have imagined.
Mary Ann Barclay
As much as I don’t want to split and as much as I want to work out every other possible solution first (which we haven’t yet), I also strongly believe there is always a time when abusive relationships should end. If I would say that to a human being in an abusive relationship, why wouldn’t I believe it for church? Is there no line? I don’t want a schism but all the talk about unity in diversity also ignores the abuse LGBTQ folks tolerate – at least the way I see it argued over and over. Would love to hear an argument for not separating that actually incorporates the abuse of queer folks. I haven’t seen that anywhere yet.
PC(USA) and PCA felt no choice but to split over the ordination of women. PCA churches still stand firm in their refusal to ordain women. A split was necessary for the sake of women’s equality. If we aren’t considering it as a last resort, seems to me like we are just advocating for throwing queer folks under the bus as long as it takes. Nothing about that seems churchy to me.
Mary Ann Barclay
Just realized this is an old post. Just showed up on my feed!
don’t worry, Mary Ann! I reposted it today so conversation is still ongoing!
Only Scripture does say to separate from those who will not repent yet insist in being called brother.
So long as there is a group in the church who want to say sin is not sin there cannot be a Holy Spirit guiding the church. The Holy Spirit is not going to bless such an unholy union.
There are some things WORTH separating on. Every Methodist who’s not an Anglican or Roman Catholic implicitly recognizes this, whether they acknowledge it or not.
I have just not so amicably separated from the UMC. I have been very happy in my own congregation, but I cannot in good conscience be a member of a denomination that believes that homosexuality is incompatible with Christianity. That is simply a lie that both experience and an understand of the gospel exposes as hateful. Although my own congregation ignores that part of the BOD and indeed has performed same-sex blessings and will soon perform two same-sex weddings, I find it impossible to stay in connection with people I regard as bigots. Nothing in your blog changes my mind. I will sleep better at night as I join an Episcopal congregation.
Mark & Paul separated.Schism/Diaspora between Apostle Paul & Jerusalem church led to more spread of gospel. Since 1.7% of the whole seeks to impose its will by deliberately rejecting clergy vows then let them found their own Gay UMC based on the premise that vows before God mean nothing.
For 25 years this battle has been going on. There is about to be a ” schism, or amicable separation” between myself and the UMC because they are not ministry focused. Evidently there are many like minded people voting with their feet.
Sometimes schism creates valid entities, eg. Reformation, American Revolution. Sometimes the dissidents disappear , eg Albergensians , Confederate States of America, Often after a period of separation, accommodation is found. eg. ME South, I believe that eventually, the General Conference will accommodate the LGBT community, but if they defy instead of dialogue, the schism of spirit will be wider and harder to bridge. The fast growing Asian and African Methodists may overcome rather than assimilate with the liberal US Methodists.
I serve a large healthy United Methodist congregation that includes persons of varying lifestyles. Over the years, a few folks have left because Untied Methodism is perceived as too liberal on issues of human sexuality. A few more have left because United Methodism is perceived as too conservative on the same issues. This is interesting: For all the noise in the media, not a single congregant has said a word to me about the events of the past week.
Paul Anthony Preussler
What we need to do is vote by our feet, by returning to the UMC, and providing enough votes in the general conference to ensure that the Wesleyan tradition prevails.