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Beth Ann Cook: An Open Letter To the Methodist Middle

by Beth Ann Cook

I wrote this 5 1/2 years ago to address people who were grieving and angry. This feels like a good time to re-share it. With today's big news about the proposed separation many people are once again are upset and grieving. Please pray for those who are having hard time. I'm praying for all of us to press into the new normal and what God has for us in the future.

Rev. Beth Ann Cook is a pastor in the Indiana Conference of the United Methodist Church. Her open letter was e-mailed out on May 27 via the Indiana Confessing Movement, of which she is the president. Posted here with permission.

Dear UMC Brothers and Sisters,

For almost a week I’ve watched you react on social media to the press release from 80 conservative leaders who are calling for a peaceful division in The United Methodist Church.

I want to affirm your grief. I hear agonizing heartbreak behind your Tweets, Facebook posts and blogs. You love The UMC! I hear you saying that one of the things you most appreciate about our church is that it has been a theological “big tent”. Your grief is real and raw.

I too have been grieving. I’m a little further along in that journey because as a delegate to the Tampa General Conference I saw first-hand bad the situation had become. I was shell shocked on the closing night-as were most participants. We’ve always had disagreements but Tampa was different; the vitriol and dysfunction led to a complete breakdown. I remember sitting with two friends who are on opposite sides of the theological spectrum. One looked at the other and said, “the split will come in 2016.” My heart ached—but I knew it was truth.

As long as we had an agreed upon process for making decisions and were, at least tacitly, living within that process, we could be a “big tent”. That is no longer the case.

Our most progressive brothers and sisters sincerely believe they are called to challenge the status quo by disobeying what they perceive as unjust laws. For them it is a social justice issue. I have deep respect for them for having courage in their convictions and realize that they are sincerely seeking to follow Jesus.

The Council of Bishops has demonstrated that it is unable or unwilling to rein them in. (I honestly think they are as divided as the rest of the church.)

That leaves folks like me in a conundrum. Orthodox evangelicals hold high view of the authority of Scripture; we also believe that it is clear that acting on same sex attraction is sin. The way things stand in the UMC, we find ourselves complicit in what we firmly believe is false teaching. Jesus said it is better to have a millstone placed around your neck and be thrown into the sea! Someday I will have to stand before my Lord and Savior.

So there you have it. Neither side of the theological divide can adopt the “agree to disagree” middle way that some have proposed. The very act of compromise would violate deeply held convictions. Both are at the place Luther found himself when he had to say: “here I stand, I can do no other, God help me, amen.”

One of the most helpful classes I took in seminary was on family counseling. Our professor taught us many useful things including the five stages of grief and how to apply family systems theory in the local parish. I learned that anger is an inherent part of grieving.

Denial is, I recall, also part of the grieving process. Some maintain that only a relatively small percentage of our church holds these two mutually exclusive positions. I actually think that many in our church have strong convictions on this issue. I could be wrong–and only time will tell for certain.

I also learned that when someone names dysfunction in a family system and says that he or she will no longer live with that dysfunction other family members pressure that person to conform to the old patterns of behavior.

It is important for you to know that those who have named the brokenness of The UMC are not going to back down. Neither are the extreme progressives.

This means that, one way or another, The UMC as we knew it is gone. If there is no formal division, there will be a quiet exodus of those who cannot stay.

Let that reality sink in.

I encourage you to grieve well and honestly.

When you’ve had some time to process through this, I encourage you to join me in trying to make the best of the “new normal”.

I think Luke 6:31 is a good place to start. Jesus said, “Do to others as you would like them to do to you.” What does that look like in this situation? I also invite you to join me in prayer: “Lord, help us treat each other like Christians in the midst of this”.

I’m trusting that our God is able to work in, through, and around our brokenness. Perhaps the way we treat each other in the midst of disagreement can be a powerful witness in itself.

Your Sister in Christ,

Beth Ann Cook Indiana Annual Conference


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