From the Pastor – July 2022
You’ve likely seen, read, or heard something recently about the United Methodist Church. In order to keep you informed I want to give some insight and context while explaining where we currently stand as a denomination and as a local church.
Our beloved United Methodist Church has been embroiled in heated discussions and controversy since it was established in 1968. The merger of the Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren Church brought together not only theological differences, but also social differences of British and German backgrounds that were just as significant. The merger was a covenant, a promise, to live together in spite of our differences. The Bishops declared on that day, “Lord of the Church, we are united in Thee, in Thy Church and now in The United Methodist Church.”
But the differences that enriched and strengthened the church, have also challenged many and the theological diversity has simply become too much for some.
So what we have today in the United Methodist Church is a divide primarily over LGBTQ+ inclusion and secondarily over the understanding of scripture. To say these are the only differences would be misleading. We are divided over a number of social issues including abortion, gun rights, civil rights, immigration, and “just war” to name a few. Yet many of these issues have brought us closer and made our witness richer. Unfortunately, though, the United Methodist Church is on the brink of fracture over two issues.
And it’s not so simple. Neither issue is just polarizing, dividing people into two opposite sides. Rather, there are multiple ways of understanding, accepting, believing, and living within them. Considering the scripture issue alone is complicated. Do we believe in a static Bible? (Meaning it’s interpretation and understanding have and will never change.) Or do we believe in a living Word, through which the Holy Spirit continues to work and inspire faith, interpretation, and understanding? Or how about translations? Should they be translated word-for-word, thought-for-thought, phrase-to-phrase? And what about the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek words whose original meaning have been lost over time? And how about social, scientific, cultural, and racial understandings that have evolved over the last 3500 years. Should these ideas be considered in interpreting scripture?
See what I mean? It’s complicated. Every issue is when you look at it just below the surface; and why the impending split in the church will be so difficult and unfortunately, ugly. In 2019 the UMC held a Special Called General Conference (The General Conference is the worldwide legislative function of the UMC.) to deal specifically with these differences. It was hoped that a resolution would be created. It wasn’t. The only solution that passed was a process called Disaffiliation, through which a church could leave the UMC either to become independent or to join another denomination. This process was meant to be a temporary measure until a more permanent solution could be created by the next General Conference.
Since then, several leaders from across the denomination came together creating a Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace through Separation and Restructuring. This protocol would have allowed individuals and churches (including whole Annual Conferences) to simply leave the United Methodist Church for a newly created, more conservative, Wesleyan denomination. It was widely accepted by leaders and churches across the denomination and world, and was expected to pass at the General Conference in 2020.
Then, the COVID-19 global pandemic postponed the General Conference to 2021, then 2022, and now to 2024, which means the simple process of churches leaving the UMC does not yet exist and many churches and leaders are unwilling to wait until 2024. Some more conservative leaders established the Wesleyan Covenant Association for the purpose of launching a new Wesleyan denomination following General Conference (in response to the Protocol.) With the postponement of General Conference again, the WCA moved forward with their plans and on May 1, 2022 launched the Global Methodist Church.
“What does all of this mean?” and “What happens next?” you might be asking.
The answer is, well, complicated. The simplest answer and one most churches and pastors will follow is “nothing at all.” Most of the UM Churches and clergy across our connection will simply continue in ministry within the United Methodist Church in their communities. It has been wrongfully stated and misunderstood that every church has to vote. That’s not true. Only those churches who want to leave the UMC need to vote. Some will enter theological and political discussions and studies and then decide to either remain in the UMC, or leave and find another more appropriate home. Regardless, all churches should be in some form of discernment process.
Those churches that cannot wait for the expected solutions from the 2024 General Conference are choosing to leave now, or disaffiliating. It has been estimated that somewhere between 10-25% of churches will eventually choose to leave the UMC, but no one knows for sure. There is a special called Annual Conference this fall to assist those churches voting to disaffiliate so they don’t have to wait for Annual Conference 2023. The other reason is that there is a deadline to disaffiliate as this measure expires in 2023. (This was in anticipation of a permanent solution from the next General Conference.)
So as United Methodists wait for the next General Conference, we remain in prayer, discernment, and vital ministry. The Judicial Council, the Commission on General Conference, and the Jurisdictional Conference will all continue their own work. New Episcopal leaders (Bishops) will be elected and assigned this fall. New solutions will be created in place of the previously proposed protocol. (Because it was time specific for a 2020 GC, there is question if it can be enacted without major amendments. It may simply be replaced with a similar proposal.)
As stated above, the United Methodist Church was established with a clear Gospel vision and a broad theological perspective. This remains central to our beloved church. The UMC will hold fast to its historic core doctrines, its high view of scripture, and John Wesley’s focus on both personal holiness AND social justice. (This is part of the UMC Constitution which is as difficult to change as the US Constitution.) That means the UMC will continue to have significant diversity of opinions and understandings, which has challenged all of us and yet made us richer. There will always be those with more conservative and progressive perspectives with most somewhere in between, but that is part of the beauty of the UMC, room at Christ’s table.
As far as Westville UMC is concerned, we will continue to welcome all people into our fellowship, be the neighbors Jesus expects us to be, and do what we have been called to do, love. The hope is that every church can get beyond this disruption and back to vibrant ministry as soon as possible.
In Response to Current Issues…
Question…can I still love you and disagree with you about something? Can I love you, and care for you, and wish you the best of everything and yet disagree with your opinion or stance on something? The answer is “yes”. Recently, I have been asked about my stance or my opinion on the subject of LGBTQ inclusiveness – and more recently the topic of abortion. The question really is – can I love you even IF we end up on two different sides of that subject? An even deeper question is this…can you still love me – even IF we disagree?
In light of recent events, I was reminded of the shortest yet one of the most profound verses in the Bible. It simply says, “Jesus wept.” Out of compassion. Out of empathy. Out of care for the feelings of His friends due to their grief and pain. Fully God, yet fully man. Putting Himself in the shoes (or rather sandals) of others.
My Jesus wept.
I can’t help but to think that as Jesus looks down upon us and seeing how divided we have become – that He weeps.
When rioting ensues in the name of justice…Jesus weeps.
When 3.1 million children die worldwide each year due to malnutrition…Jesus weeps.
When the church divides…Jesus weeps.
When a future mother feels alone, unloved, and with no place to turn other than abortion…Jesus weeps.
When members of the LGBTQIA community feel unwanted and cast aside…Jesus weeps.
When our little ones are gunned down in their school rooms…Jesus weeps.
When our brothers and sisters of different races or religions are persecuted…Jesus weeps.
When millions of refugees have no place to call home…Jesus weeps.
When thousands of children are forced to work long hours in poor conditions so that we can have our new shoes…Jesus weeps.
When 20-30 children are sold each day as a part of sex trafficking…Jesus weeps.
And, when issues like the recent Supreme Court ruling cause division, anger, frustration, and hurt…Jesus weeps for and with you, regardless of what side you choose to take.
Believe it. That’s my Jesus. One who loves unconditionally…One who, in His truest since, is the picture of love and empathy…And, one who is willing to put Himself in our shoes, taking on our sin and pain, even though we don’t deserve it.
That’s my Jesus.
But, believe this as well…There is another player here.
While division reigns, ugliness fills our newsfeed, and my Jesus weeps…Satan smiles.
Be good to one another, friends. Just know that we will never be able to walk in another’s shoes to truly understand their perspective on an issue.
And, even if we don’t agree with another’s perspective, it doesn’t mean that we can’t still CHOOSE to love one another.
Just like my Jesus would.
It’s here, in this beautiful place of empathy, compassion, and love, regardless of differences…that Jesus smiles.
Pastor Toby Guill219-850-3768 (cell)