Around the blogosphere there has been a lot of chatter over the future of The United Methodist Church. Bishop Coyner suggested a split within the denomination, that would, in my estimation, effectively create many mini denominations. Other folks on the left and the right have suggested its time to have an amicable split in the UMC. It has been talked about on social media for awhile and seems to be the current buzzword from the UMC. The truth is there is no such thing as an amicable split. If you have ever witnessed a divorce, they are typically ugly, nasty, brutal things. People get mean. Both sides attack each other. I have seen husbands and wives destroy marriages in a matter of hours. Divorce is drastic. C.S. Lewis once wrote,
They [Christians] all regard divorce as something like cutting up a body, as a kind of surgical operation. Some of them think the operation so violent that it cannot be done at all; others admit it as a desperate remedy in extreme cases. They are all agreed that it is more like having both your legs cut off than it is like dissolving a business partnership or even deserting a regiment.”
Divorce is “like having both of your legs cut off.” Think about that in the church. What would that mean for the UMC?
- Lawsuits, lawsuits, and more lawsuits. You cannot just let churches have their properties. We aren’t a congregational polity church. See whats happening in the Episcopal Church or in the Presbyterian Church. Churches who want to leave and take their properties are being sued and will continue to be sued. Estimates on settlement costs are in the millions! One historian of the church told us there were 50 years of court cases after 1844. Can you put a number on how many court cases would happen now?
- Two way street. If one side gets to leave and take their property then all sides get to leave and take their property. The United Methodist denomination as we know it will crumble faster than detonating charges on a bridge. If that side can do what they want with no consequences then the other side can do what they want with no consequences. Rebaptize? Sure! Online Communion? Absolutely! Teach Calvinism? You got it!
- Haves and Have Nots. What usually happens in a divorce is one side is left with the money and the other side is left with none. The money in The United Methodist Church comes from the southern part of the church. So what happens in a split when one side has the money?
- Ugliness rears its head. I was part of a church that split in the early 90’s. People got ugly with one another. Pastors bashed other pastors who they had lunch with last year! Fingers were pointed at one another. Labels were handed out and there was plenty of blame to go around. That church has still not recovered from the dust settling.
- Our witness suffers. People do not want to be a part of a church that is fighting. Regardless of where you stand on the issues, if you are arguing with someone over property, money, or faithfulness then folks will think less of you and head to the church down the road.
I just don’t see how a split can ever be amicable. It’s like divorce, and divorce is ugly. Maybe instead of a divorce, what we really need is clarification? Maybe what we need to articulate is why we are all Methodists in the first place and why we believe what we believe. When I was in seminary, one of the main requirements for graduation was to take a year long course called Systematic Theology. At the end of the course we had to sit down and write out our beliefs. It was called our Credo. The instructors didn’t want a theological system (Outler, I am looking at you former Perkins professor). They wanted us to put it all together and offer our theological understanding of Christianity. This was one of the most powerful things I have undertaken in life. It definitely clarified what I believed. My proposal, then, is this: instead of debates or dialogues about issues, why don’t we take the next couple of years and clarify our core doctrinal principals? Why don’t we gather the leading scholars in United Methodist Theology from across the world and work out what it really means to be a United Methodist? Not a theological system, but an actual clarification of our beliefs. Who we are as a people called United Methodists today. A United Methodist Credo if you will. My hunch is through this process we will also clarify what it means to be a Christian in The United Methodist Church and several folks on both sides of the aisle will realize they are probably not United Methodist to begin with. At least through a process like this, one can come to understand what is really at stake in the church. This process might help us find our true center and our true mission which would be more beneficial than endless debates over sexuality.