“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”Hebrews 13:8
We live in a time of change. Honestly, change happens all the time, but right now, one of the things most of us have counted on for the last 52 years, the United Methodist denomination, is being shaken to the core, and if you were paying attention to the news this past week, you know that there has been an agreement hammered out to divide the church into at least two denominations.
As I read and watched the news, I couldn’t help but notice that not all of the information being shared by various outlets and networks was entirely accurate. So, what I would like to share with you now is what has not happened, what has happened, and what we know about what will happen moving forward.
First, the United Methodist Church has not split. No group, individual, or organization may officially speak or decide for the United Methodist Church, except for the General Conference, which will be meeting in May of this year. Is it possible that there may be a separation, when the General Conference meets? Yes. It is possible, and perhaps more likely than in years past, but it is far from a foregone conclusion. Additionally, much of the news I have read and heard in the media has been written and delivered in such a way as to indicate that the “traditionalists” in the denomination have only recently made it impossible for more progressive elements in the church to coexist by forcing a new doctrine against homosexual marriage and ordination into the church. The truth is that the United Methodist Church formed in 1968 from a merger of the Evangelical United Brethren and The Methodist Church, and the language in the discipline identifying homosexuality as “incompatible with Christian teaching” and prohibiting both homosexual ordination and marriage was added back in 1972. Further, neither of the predecessor denominations affirmed homosexuality.
That being said, this is an issue that we’ve been debating virtually since we became a united denomination in 1968, and it is true that significant leadership voices on both sides of the debate over whether or not homosexuality, and other LGBTQ behavior is a sin or a function of one’s identity (how a person was created) have increasingly agreed that our differences are irreconcilable. Therefore, there have been many recent conversations between leaders in the progressive, centrist, and conservative elements of the church about “amicable separation” and a mediated plan has been agreed upon by some of these leaders. You can find this plan, including the names and signatures of those who were a part of crafting it at the following location: Protocol-of-Reconciliation- and-Grace-through-Separation
These same leaders have asked the United Methodist Church’s judicial council to rule on the constitutionality of the plan ahead of May’s General Conference, and in order for it to become the plan for the church, it will have to also receive a majority vote at General Conference, which is not a certain outcome. Under this plan, the United Methodist denomination would eliminate the restrictions against homosexual marriage and ordination, and conferences and churches would be allowed to leave the denomination, and join a new denomination, or denominations, with their property and assets intact, provided certain provisions are met, such as the repayment of debt. If it does pass (and that’s a big “if”) the implementation of the plan will take a course of years, and we will have the opportunity, as a church, to decide whether or not we want to leave the denomination.
The truth of the matter is that none of us can predict accurately what’s going to happen. If you had asked me, when I began serving as a pastor in 2001, if influential leaders in our denomination would be seriously endorsing division over this issue, I would have said, “absolutely not”. Here is what we do know, and what we can predict: God is still in charge, we still have a mission to make new disciples of Jesus, and our congregation’s vision is to love, build, and serve. We also know that one day, finally and ultimately, God will make all things right. We know that though He sometimes does new things, his character never changes, He is always good, and his love and grace conquer all. May we all join in prayer and scriptural discernment and focus on Jesus as the date of General Conference approaches, and may we be ready in every season to give an an- swer for the hope that we have. (1 Peter 3:15) Amen.
Reverend Jason TeagueSenior Pastor