West Ohio Wesleyan Covenant Association
A global pandemic has thwarted the meeting of General Conference and delayed the implementation of the avenue for amicable separation anticipated through the Protocol. As we wait, anxiously and expectantly, two different questions are expressed with increasing urgency: Why Wait --- Why Not Exit Now?
Why Put Our Congregation through the Pain of Deciding?
This week we address question two.
Why Put Our Congregation through the Pain of Deciding?
The Protocol provides an avenue for annual conferences, local churches, and clergy to decide if they want to be a part of the “Post-Separation United Methodist Church” (PSUMC) or a new expression of Methodism. If an annual conference makes no decision, they default to the PSUMC. If a local church disagrees with the decision of their annual conference (either to stay or leave) the local church may vote to make the opposite decision. If the local churches, choose not to vote they default to the decision of their annual conference. Faced with fears of the pain decision-making will bring to the congregation, many local churches are seeking to avoid deciding.
The 17th century philosopher, Renes Descartes, wrote, “Not to decide is to decide.” Every local church will decide --- either intentionally or by default --- which direction to go as a new Wesleyan denomination emerges. Wise pastors and leaders of local congregations will look carefully, as best they can, into the future before simply deciding by default (deciding not to decide to avoid the pain of decision).
What Will a Church with Decreased Traditional Leadership Look Like?
It is likely that a significant number of orthodox, evangelical pastors, leaders, congregations, and members will choose to move to a new global expression of Methodism. One result will be that the impact and influence of more traditional leaders in the PSUMC will be diluted and dissipated. The PSUMC and other centrist/progressive expressions will most certainly trend in an increasingly progressive direction as the years pass by. History has shown this to be the typical pattern. When the Episcopal Church affirmed the ordination of LGBTQ persons and approved same sex marriage, assurances were given that there would be no coercion. Those assurances are now evaporating. Dioceses are requiring bishops, pastors, and congregations to adhere to LGBTQ inclusion and same sex marriage policies.
Of course, our divergent convictions on human sexuality and marriage have been the flashpoint in the UMC. However, that our debate over human sexuality represents only the tip of the iceberg. Beneath lies numerous disagreements about the role, authority and interpretation of Scripture, theology, our understanding of the purpose and mission of the church and even the nature of salvation. A friend frequently says that we use to read the same documents and use the same words but have two quite different understandings of the meanings.
Five “Dis-junctures to Think About
Dr. William (Billy) Abraham, Albert Outler Professor of Wesleyan Studies at Perkins School of Theology, recently released a video talk entitled, “In the Departure Lounge: Choose this Day Whom You Will Serve.” Here is the link:
Dr. Abraham compares what he believes will be the nature of the CUMC and the new global Methodist church taking shape. He compares these two by outlining five “dis-junctures” between them. The 48-minute video is time well spent, but here is a brief summary.
Five Dis-junctures (William Abraham)
A Version of Christianity --- A Church --- Built on sexual politics and identity Built on our Lord’s teaching, generally and specifically on marriage.
Operating by non-rational means of persuasion (i.e., slogans, name-calling, ad hominem attacks) Characterized by decision making based on divine revelation given magnificently in the Scriptures
Built on rebellion against longstanding teaching and practice of the church That believes and practices rational means of persuasion.
With no anti-virus against the siren songs of secular and post-Christian culture That stands by hard-won, even contested conciliar (made in council) decisions that bind us together
Where primary focus of mission is social justice and identity politics Where driving focus of mission is on conversion, church planting, moral and spiritual formation, making real disciples and, where appropriate, relevant political and social action
What Do We Hope for Our Congregations?
That is the question that faces every pastor, congregational leader, congregation, and member. What kind of church do we hope for three years, five years, ten years from now? Do we seek a church where centrist and progressive perspectives have increasing weight? If so, the PSUMC should be our decision. Or do we long for a congregation which stands on the faith that has been passed down through centuries of believers; that is motivated to make disciples who are centered on Jesus and shaped by Scripture and the Holy Spirit; that is free to teach the Scripture definition of marriage and sexuality without fear of criticism from within the church? There are many signs that those leading the way toward a new traditionalist and global expression of Methodism have this second church firmly in sight.
We naturally want to escape painful decisions and events. Even Jesus, in Gethsemane prayed that God would take the cup from him. Yet, out of the pain of the cross came redemption. Out of some painful decisions the vision of a renewed Wesleyan movement may come to fruition.
Rev. Greg Stover
WOWCA Board Member
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