The United Methodist Church is on the verge of schism. No one wants to call it that, but that’s the direction we’re going. At the moment, three “ways forward” are being presented. Option One is essentially to stay the course and hold those accountable who do not follow the constitution. Option Two, rewrites the constitution, affirming homosexually and allowing room for those whose conscience forbids participating in same sex marriage. Option Three, creates three separate belief systems operating under one Council of Bishops. All three of them offer an exit ramp for those who cannot live with the decision, which is scheduled for February 2019.
On the surface, the issue appears to be human sexually, or more pointedly how to respond to the LGBTQ community. But under the surface, the issue is far more profound and complex. The real issue goes to the heart of faith for some United Methodists and how can one compromise a basic faith principle. Serious Christians can’t.
I’ve been predicting this day for the last thirty years. Now the time has come. The problem for me isn’t the impending schism. My problem is the reason for the schism. It shouldn’t be over the LGBTQ community. It should be over is “Who is Jesus Christ?” The only thing worth splitting over is “Does everyone know Jesus?” But we United Methodists either abandoned that concern a long time ago in favor of social justice, or we have so deviated from the concern for evangelism that it is hard to find a UM Church whose primary existence is the redeem the world.
Friends, Jesus died to save the world and that includes the LGTBQ community. And it also includes those who are addicted to food, alcohol, drugs, relationships, sex, spending, hoarding, lying, bullying, greed, pride, and injustice. If that were our focus the “Way Forward” would be clear. The only thing that matters is whether or not we’ve been redeemed. Everything else pales into insignificance.
When I started consulting some thirty years ago, I quickly learned that if I wanted to make a difference I had to keep my focus on Jesus and not get mired in the incidentals. As long as I did and I convinced the congregation to do the same, I could help any church grow. I think the same is true with my beloved UMC.
If we return to a focus on Jesus and the redemption of the world, we will still have a schism because some of my colleagues don’t believe that Jesus is the savior of the world. But now we are at the heart of the matter. I don’t care about a person’s sexuality, but I care passionately about the condition of their soul. I may have my own personal opinion about human sexuality and may not understand why people engage in certain acts, but I have no doubt about the efficacy of the Cross. It and it alone will solve our crises.
So whatever happens, we must celebrate the decision and part company as Christians, not bigots. Let’s not forget, we are all sinners. I suggest we learn from the Southern Baptist. They learned a long time ago that it is better to split and grow than to say together and fight and die.
February 2019 will come sooner than we think. As Wesley would remind us, “If your heart is as my heart, give me your hand.” We all know that famous quote, but let me share a quote that goes much deeper.
“If your heart is right, as mine with your heart then love me with a very tender affection, as a friend that is closer than a brother, as a brother in Christ, a fellow citizen of the New Jerusalem, a fellow soldier engaged in the same warfare, under the same Captain of our salvation. Love me as a companion in the kingdom and patience of Jesus, and a joint heir of his glory.”
I think that says it all. God bless us as we prepare for schism so we can change the world rather than continuing to fight and die.