Having no desire personally to leave our denomination, and sensing that none of our members in the congregation I serve want to leave, I will make a few observations.
Our more informed members hope for restructuring, reimagining and rebranding our beloved United Methodist Church, where they have been nurtured and where they love nurturing others in the faith. The first elephant in the room is the need for getting a clearer understanding of what a post-separation denomination will look like going forward.
It must be clear that the new United Methodism will love, engage and respect the Bible as the dynamic foundation of our faith. United Methodists will embrace Scripture with heart, mind, soul and strength. The dynamics of experience, tradition and reason will also inform our reading and understanding of the Bible, but all are secondary to Scripture, which is our grounding of belief and practice.
New United Methodism will be made up of a large and expansive Lord’s Table where all — centrist, traditionalists and progressives — are welcome. In this denomination, Wesleyan tolerance is the order of the day.
New United Methodism will stress preaching and teaching about faith in Jesus Christ, whom we know and proclaim as our living Savior and Lord. As “Savior,” Jesus is divine, and as God has done the work of redemption that we cannot do for ourselves. As “Lord,” we uplift Jesus, crucified and risen, as the supreme human example of love of God and love of neighbor.
As described in Fanny Crosby’s “Blessed Assurance,” new United Methodism will trust the Holy Spirit and our “perfect submission” leading to “perfect delight” in being guided and directed toward a life that becomes the Gospel. The Gospel is the “good news” of a loving God who offers grace and forgiveness freely to all, and loves unconditionally.
With truth being under attack these days on so many levels, people stand more sensitized to the importance of knowing truth. The church of Jesus Christ stands solidly in the tradition of knowing and proclaiming Jesus as the Way, the Truth and the Life to a world so desperate to experience Spirit and Truth.
New United Methodism embraces our historical evangelical heritage and is most comfortable with being “Wesleyan Evangelical.” We understand and distance ourselves from the secular/political connotations of “evangelical” in the United States today. Ours is the Wesleyan evangelical variety, focusing on the holy work of loving people into relationship with Jesus Christ.
New United Methodism is solidly committed to The United Methodist Church’s mission of “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” Local congregations will be diligent in addressing the longing for healing, locally and globally, with regard to the many divisions faced by our cities, communities, neighborhoods, villages, churches and families.
New United Methodism is socially and politically Wesleyan. Wesley was quite passionate regarding matters of inclusion, circumstances demanding justice, acts of mercy and basic human rights. Making disciples, doing justice, and practicing kindness are the call to be the hands and feet — and voice — of Jesus Christ.
New United Methodism is intentionally not homogenous and is made up of members who are different theologically, politically and socially, as well as being multigenerational and multicultural. This diversity is evident in some of our local churches and is quite evident in the collection of our local communities.
New United Methodism is proudly global and we all seek to learn from our sisters and brothers where the church is growing and thriving. We greatly appreciate voices from central conference leaders, including bishops, who have called for unity and structural change to be more effective as a global church.
New United Methodism will work diligently to be driven by our mission and to define a strong, clarifying vision of a preferred future for the church. We will dare to dream of where God will take us into the future. We will be more prophetic, solidly missional, proudly global and Wesleyan evangelical while committed to mission together and growing in number and spirit.
The inspiration for this article came from one written by Tom Lambrecht, called “Primary Reasons for Separation,” and Adam Hamilton’s response. Tom brought up the other large elephant in the room, which when all the noise is silenced, is the reason for the separation: LGBTQ inclusion.
Adam says quite clearly, “My experience is that there are two kinds of traditionalists in The United Methodist Church when it comes to same-sex marriage and ordination of LGBT persons: 1) Those who cannot continue in a church where any pastors officiate at same-sex marriages and where any annual conferences will ordain qualified LGBT candidates; and 2) Those who feel they can remain in a denomination that allows for differences on marriage and ordination, provided they are not required to violate their own convictions.”
I would say that there are also two kinds of progressives who can be described along the same lines as Adam Hamilton portrays traditionalists. Separation in The United Methodist Church will include both traditionalists and progressives who desire a more homogenous denomination — people who “believe just like us” — on these matters.
New United Methodism is made up of women and men who have hoped against hope that the entire denomination would not experience separation, especially with so many divisions in the world where we are called to serve. We see the hypocrisy in our call to “transform the world” in all of its hate and divisions, pain and suffering, as well as toxic conversation, while we have literally spent decades fretting and fighting over who’s in and who’s out.
New United Methodism vows not to objectify those in the global church who African bishops cited as “being treated as ‘votes.’” We confess and repent of any manipulative measures that have been dehumanizing of sisters and brothers for purely political purposes. Likewise, we commit to call such measures into account when we witness dehumanization on the part of any United Methodist institutional process.
New United Methodism will be honed and streamlined in our funding for effective mission. We recommit to being better stewards than ever before of the general funding that we share for missions and outreach throughout the globe. We will see a reduction in missional apportionments in our local churches and a challenge to give generously that which is asked of us, and as needed, to fund additional ministry locally and globally.
New United Methodism realizes that with some United Methodists in central conferences, we have unique cultural differences and potential deepening divides. In Christian love we will work through matters of disagreement and focus more essentially on our mission together. We are grateful for the excellent collective work of representatives of the central conferences — particularly based in the Philippines — called the “Christmas Covenant” that have been helpful pushing for more equality and regionalization.
New United Methodism sees the wisdom of our global church being a collection of regions, thus being more equal in our structure and free to focus on unique regional issues and concerns. Regional conferencing will allow our General Conferences to focus together, unlike any other church, on all-important issues of evangelism, discipleship, health care, education and social-justice matters throughout the globe.
It is time for new United Methodism to name the elephant in the room as “lack of clarity” and define who the denomination will be and how it will function missionally.
It is also time to deal effectively with the elephant of human sexuality. As a global denomination with a regional approach, we can address these matters in our particular mission fields with a wideness of God’s grace, and Christian respect and understanding of one another.
This time of decision reflects the redemption of God allowing our freedom of choice to lead us forward, even if it means in separate directions. These separate paths reflect differing convictions and mutual desire for authentic pursuits in being the Church of Jesus Christ. May God bless those of us going forward in these separate ways.
Copeland is senior pastor of Lovers Lane United Methodist Church in Dallas.
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