Keep the First Rule the First Thing

I and my colleagues and fellow Hoosier United Methodists are about to gather in Indianapolis for our Annual Conference. In recent years Annual Conference has been so tightly scripted and streamlined it could have been handled through e-mail. This time will, I suspect, be very different. We are dealing with the results of the Special General Conference in St. Louis in February of this year and electing delegates for the “regularly scheduled” General Conference in May of next year.

The vaunted “connectional system” in our denomination has pretty clearly frayed, if not broken entirely. I’m not even sure Wespath, our pension system, and the Trust Clause,which legally places ownership of property in the ultimate hands of the denomination rather than the local congregation, keeps the “united” in The United Methodist Church any longer.

Recently there has been a fair amount of discussion about how those who disagree with the draconian policies enacted by the conservative segments of the UMC should resist the spiritual and ecclesiastical tyranny by disobeying the prohibitions and mandates of The Book of Discipline they believe unfaithful and abhorrent. While this may be necessary for those who believe so strongly that they find the prospect of nonlethal martyrdom attractive, I would encourage a better approach.

First, resistance will be painful and expensive. It would be possible to bring the UMC to a grinding halt by tying up the system and its resources with a flood of church trials for officiating at same-sex weddings, but that will only increase the pain and division within our denomination further eroding our witness for Christ. We have a hard enough time barely doing church. I can speak from experience that we do a church court even worse.

Instead, I encourage us – and especially those who will be delegates to the next General Conference – to remember John Wesley’s first rule for members of his Methodist societies: First Do No Harm.

We need to stop doing harm to those who disagree with us on the issues surrounding ministry and human sexuality. We need to admit that those with whom we disagree are sisters and brothers in Christ who firmly believe they are being faithful to Christ and led by the Holy Spirit. It is time to stop beating up on each other and re-organize the church to beat the Devil.

It is time to elect delegates who will admit that The United Methodist Church is broken and the time has come to dissolve the denomination. No successor denomination or covenant structure should be allowed to retain the name or symbol of The United Methodist Church. It will be hard, painful work, requiring repentance and humility and grace on all sides, but it can be done. As my colleague Darren Cushman-Wood recently pointed out much can be civilly achieved through mediation and arbitration.

The reality is there are no winners in this fight and there can never be. We are in a lose-lose situation. Let us admit it and stop harming each other.

4 thoughts on “Keep the First Rule the First Thing

  1. Thank you sharing an honest, realistic word. I agree neither side should retain the UMC nor should any side have the advantage of incumbency. What people are missing is that as painful as this process will be, it will give us an opportunity to begin to deal with our systemic and structural issues that must be addressed.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. A book suggestion for Curmudgeon (if not yet read): “Crossed Fingers: How the Liberals Captured the Presbyterian Church,” by Gary North. It’s long at over 1,000 pages, but relevant to what the UMC is facing today.

    A core theme runs through North’s history. “Crossed Fingers” means that while oaths were officially adopted, many of the leading clergy had their fingers crossed. I.e. they didn’t really mean what they swore to.
    And in the wake of their crossed fingers, there were no sanctions placed on those who chipped away at the Confession. (The UMC main analogy is the BoD.)

    In the UMC, crossed fingers fits the description of many, maybe most, of the denominations Bishops and prominent senior pastors, as well as the semi-independent Boards and Agencies staffed by unaccountable bureaucrats. The laity had no idea how much had eroded – they do now.

    It is, in short, a thoroughly failed organization. Your call for a divorce is well taken. And why would any subsequent Methodist organization want to claim the UMC brand going forward? (Retired UMC clergyperson)

    Liked by 1 person

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