Just where I'm coming from
I just read a blogpost by a "centrist" UM pastor in Ohio, gloating over the defeat of the WCA in recent elections to General and Jurisdictional Conferences. He suggests it's time for the WCA to leave and form its own denomination, since its bluff to take over the denomination has proven empty. The contempt in his blogpost is palpable, and instructive.
The "centrists" aren't the same as the activists over on the prog side of the fence. The activist progs want to create a certain kind of church in which LGBTQ-ness is not only allowed, but celebrated. They want it all out in the open. This is a matter of justice to them. The centrist progs say they're fine with that, but that's not really ever been their focus. Their
focus has been power, the status quo, the institution. They own the bishops. They control the BOOMs. They want the trads to leave them alone to enjoy their centrality in what they see as "their" church. The activists on their side are secondary to that; if contempt is their dominant mode toward traditionalists, then condescension is their dominant mode toward their activist allies.
Well, let me explain -- again -- what this is all about, from at least this traditionalist's perspective.
1. The debate over sexuality is not, for us, about control. Y'all can control all the stuff you want, for all we care. But we will not remain in service to a denomination that has officially sanctioned what we see as apostasy. Whether we can stay long in a denomination that has de facto
sanctioned it, even if de jure
the Discipline still says we haven't, I don't know. But we have stayed in The UMC because, officially, The UMC sided with our principles in its theology and its behavioral demands, and we were content to live under that regime. We have supported the denomination and its various ministries. We have poured our lifeblood into service in its churches. If we leave, it is because jokers like this blogger have made the house unlivable for us. Again, we are not contending for control, so much as reacting in horror to what others want to make of our church.
2. We think it is important to keep our promises. We think everyone should do so. We think regular order in making our rules and in enforcing them is part of how people live together in mutual respect for each other. The activists and centrists are willing to create an irregular order even if they can't pass the legislation to change our existing order. They are willing to make up rules as they go along, and have bishops act according to their own desires. There is another word for this, in the secular, political world: it's called "tyranny." It's the opposite of the rule of law. In the business world, it's called, "lack of integrity," and it has certain consequences in terms of how many people want to do business with you. John Wesley asked his preachers at the first Methodist Conference in 1744 if they would "keep our rules, and do not mend them; not for wrath, but for conscience' sake." Every Methodist preacher since has promised to do so. But then, many of them nowadays just don't think that promise means anything.
3. Which leads to my next point, which is not a reason for leaving or staying, but a prediction of the logical outcome of my second point. The centrists think that when they "win," then they'll collect all the marbles. But their victory, if it comes, will be hollow. Our churches -- all our churches, including the traditionalist ones -- are dying. We are hemorrhaging members. There are many reasons for this. But the jobs these centrists think they will monopolize will be ever fewer in the future they wish to create. Yes, the progs won big during these last elections to General and Jurisdictional Conferences. But their gains are mostly among the clergy -- the voting
clergy. Most licensed local pastors, who are far more conservative than the ordained pastors, can't vote. And on the laity side, many traditionalists were elected. Looking at the voting for various petitions to General Conference, I would say that Indiana's total conference membership (all
clergy + lay members) is about 55%-60% traditional. A total progressive takeover of the denomination would, I think, see huge membership losses, even without a large segment of the American church leaving in an organized fashion. Much of those losses would not be in direct reaction to the church the activists want to create, as in disgust at the church the centrists have created and weaponized to keep people divided and controlled so that they (the centrists) remain in charge of it.
4. Finally, I have only since GC19 come to the conclusion that we ought to part company, officially and amicably. I disagree with the activist progs, but I understand their desire to live and serve in a church that reflects their values. And I think they are rapidly coming to the same conclusion as regards us trads. The only question left is whether one or the other of us is going to be stuck in a church with the centrists, whose most prominent leaders' lack of integrity and incompetence have done so much to drive The UMC in America into the ground.