Updated: Jan 22, 2020
by Dr Chet Harris
The United Methodist Church will conduct business at our quadrennial General Conference in May 2020. The leadership of the United Methodist Church previously called a special General Conference in 2019.
The last regularly scheduled General Conference met in 2016. One issue absorbed the time and became the mainstay of debate at the two previous General Conferences. The casual observer declared the singular issue was homosexuality. The Progressives and Traditionalist believed each other attempted to derail and control the debate and vote. The UMC General Conference in 2020 will once again make the issue of homosexuality the center piece of debate and decision. Elected delegates with Bishops presiding will act and react according to their personal worldviews. We have little reason to believe the outcome will vary from the last two General Conferences.
One of the enriching elements of being a United Methodist is our diversity of theology and simply put our ways of doing ministry. I have discovered that my learning curve accelerates when confronted by a rationally thinking person pushing me to dig into what comprises my worldview. Think nuts and bolts. I am not a complicated thinker. Spinning off the reality of divergent worldviews possessed by the two representative groups, progressives(liberals) and evangelicals(traditionalist) I believe we are asking for the impossible. The two groups have divergent worldviews. In order, for the synergy of divergent thinking to foster growth, both groups must stay within a specific arena of thinking that informs their worldview.
Homosexuality is the presenting issue, one we will never resolve in an amicable manner, because of the way each group interprets Scripture. This is the line that we as traditionalist cannot cross and neither can the progressives. The academic word for how we interpret the Bible is hermeneutics. Both groups can read the same paragraph in the Bible and offer two entirely different interpretations. Second Timothy 2:15 is the guiding principle for biblical hermeneutics. The purpose of this article is not to offer an exposition addressing the ‘how’ or ‘why’ of interpreting scripture, but to underscore the not so subtle reality that the progressives and traditionalist will never agree on the floor of General Conference based on our divergent hermeneutics. The African United Methodist Church has recognized the truth of this irreconcilable situation by politely refusing to take sides and perhaps subtly suggesting we get our house in order and not drag them into the battle over hermeneutics. Incidentally, the African UMC possesses a high view of Scripture as understood by Traditionalist/Evangelicals.
Repeating the central thought of this article, the General Conference delegates need to adjust their expectations, procedures, and outcomes accepting the fact we cannot co-exist into the future. We will remain in conflict until Jesus returns.
We should have learned that winning and losing by a very small marginal vote is not a victory for either side. We should have learned by now both progressives and traditionalist will rally and express their disfavor if the ‘vote’ is not what they desire. Our denomination is in chaos! Our leadership is living in denial of the reality that separation is the only recourse to the chaos that exists within our denomination. It is not logical to believe a vote affirming the LBGTQI-plus agenda will bring all churches into alignment. We have already experienced the opposite by affirming the traditionalist plan at the special called General Conference with acts of open defiance resulting throughout the UMC by the progressives. Amicable resolution is impossible. I believe it is an unreasonable expectation to ask Progressives to deny their hermeneutic. I believe it is unreasonable expectation to ask Traditionalist to deny their hermeneutic. Is it too much to admit that we cannot agree, and separation would allow each group to plan and implement ministry according to their chosen method of interpreting the Bible? This just might stop the insanity of investing countless hours in political maneuvering and believing a vote will genuinely settle the issue. We must not waste the hours of General Conference in clever motions, emotional debate, and endless counter motions. I suggest one singular word that we have failed to consider when we consider this issue, ‘respect.’
I call on the leadership of the United Methodist Church and the delegates to General Conference to step into the future with decorum and intelligence, respecting the divergent worldviews and without malice toward either faction. Their mandate is to present a plan for separation that is fair to both sides. This process of formulating this plan must begin the very first day and not be squeezed into the last days of the General Conference. The leadership must trim away the rhetoric of negativity and respect the duality of the two prevailing worldviews, not debating their value, but accepting their relevance to the future of the movement of Methodism. The leadership of our denomination needs to prove to the world that the United Methodist Church can move forward in a new way by graciously separating into two denominations.
I entitled this article, “An Uncomfortable Truth.” I do not want the United Methodist Church to separate, yet in my opinion I believe it is inevitable; there is no other way forward. There is a more salient reason for the title of which makes me feel uneasy, yet it is truth. Coexisting within a denomination that is rife with leadership that does not possess a Traditional/Evangelical view of Scripture has been a challenge for me. As an evangelical/traditionalist I have ignored and even denied the reality that far too many of my colleagues do not possess the same hermeneutic. The reality is our differing worldviews create predictable conflicts and challenges that defy resolution unless one or the other goes into denial. Again, it is not reasonable or fair to deny what you believe in order to appear united in a theology which defines us. My eyes are moist as I write these words. I am sad. Discounting our beliefs as unnecessary is wrong. It needs to be said that not all progressives discount every traditional doctrine, but the issue of homosexuality and the denial of the Scriptures that prohibit LBGTQI-plus lifestyle underscores their chosen hermeneutic in interpreting Scripture. Progressives and Traditionalist inhabit two different worlds. In Mark 3:25 Jesus teaches us, “If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.” This teaching is framed within the context of Jesus stressing that evil and righteousness cannot live together. I am not inferring that Progressives are evil. They are genuine in what they believe and have a right to defend it. I view their worldview as unacceptable in that it deludes people and misguides them from the truth of Scripture. Ultimately, this is the Uncomfortable Truth.
All for the Kingdom,
Regional Director East Ohio WCA
You have an opportunity to attend a simulcast of the WCA International Gathering entitled, “Transformed,” Saturday November 9th. The onsite event is in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Your East Ohio WCA is hosting three simulcast sites: Fredericktown UMC, Christ UMC in Louisville, and Christ UMC in Cambridge. Visit our East Ohio WCA website for details and how to register. This a critical event to attend. You will not only hear inspiring prophetic words from anointed speakers, but details on what the future of a new movement in the Wesleyan tradition will look like. Pastors need to bring their church leadership to this event.
Churches are encouraged to start talking about the issues that are creating the environment of separation. It is extremely prudent to start discussing the future of your church at leadership meetings. Do not remain silent on the issues until General Conference. Become informed.
Host a study of the book, “A Firm Foundation: Hope and Vision for a New Methodist Future.” Seven weeks of informative and challenging discussion on the power of the Lordship of Jesus Christ, the authority of Scripture, the Holy Spirit, sanctification, the real purpose of the church, biblical discipleship, and our witness as a global church.
Host a speaker or panel of speakers representing the East Ohio WCA. You are welcome to contact me at Recontre2@aol.com or call 330.936.8531 to arrange a time for an informative discussion at your church, with your leadership, or one on one with your minister.
Personally, join the WCA and encourage your church to join the WCA. The national WCA website explains how to become a member.