November 14th, 2019


Knowing something is necessary doesn't make it easier (sigh)

Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of people leave the ministry of The United Methodist Church. Some were just overwhelmed. Others perhaps lost their faith (but if so, they didn’t tell me, I’m just guessing). Some were caught in misbehavior. Some had been maltreated by those in power. And some were just angry. But among those who left the path they started out on earlier than they thought they would, there is one particular group that I call the “aginners.”

This particular group has a whole set of grievances about the church they belong to. They don’t like the people in leadership, they prefer a different sort of theological framework, or something. They are always trying to make the church into what they think the church ought to be, and blaming others when they are called out for being uncooperative, disobedient, or whatever. They are constantly muttering about how we should all (“all” meaning those who agree with them) leave and start over somewhere else. Yet they stay in a church whose main features they object to, even as they rehearse their exit speech. What I’ve noticed is, they get so bound up in rehearsing that exit speech, that sometimes they give it too soon, and wind up exiting the UM ministry while making themselves look foolish.

I’m not one of those people. I always figured that if I had to tell a 12-year-old joining the church that he or she was joining an underground faction within the larger denomination, then I was asking that kid to do something that lacked integrity. And even as I have always been clear-eyed about the failures of our leadership, I have nevertheless done my duty and obeyed the rules. I respect authority, even when it’s being exercised by people I don’t much respect.

The United Methodist Church is the only church I have ever belonged to. It’s the only church I ever wanted to belong to. I accept its doctrinal standards at face value. I have taught them and defended them. No winks, nods, or nudges, no fingers crossed behind my back, no special "house rules." Even if others have not obeyed the rules or taught the faith as I think they should, so long as the official standards were on my side, I intended to stay where I was, as I was. Even now, I would like nothing better than to remain a United Methodist and let those who want the church to be something other than what it has declared itself to be go somewhere else.

I doubt that can be done, now. I still hesitate to leave the UMC, since it was only last February that it upheld the standards it has always had, which I have been glad to be part of. But those who want the church to be different won’t stop their disobedience; they have doubled down on it, instead. And so, the question that I have held in abeyance for the last several years gets closer to demanding an answer. I don’t want to give that answer early. I’m not an aginner. I’m not looking for an excuse to march out in high dudgeon. And I hesitate to say, absolutely, that I will join group X upon their exit. I could just drop my participation in the UMC while keeping my membership. (Hey, I’m retired: nobody really cares what I do with myself.) But the time will come, I think within the next twelve months, when I will have to give an answer: to stay, or to go? And if “go,” then does that mean, “join that group forming over there?”

In the meantime, I keep my vows. I have never sought to be released from them. I continue to do ministry. I continue to tell people that the best decision you will ever make is to follow Jesus, and the best way to do that right now is to join this church we find ourselves in, which for me is the UMC. I continue to support the ministries of the UMC, locally, nationally, internationally. But I can read at least some of the signs of the times. A time of decision is coming upon the people called United Methodist, and it cannot be avoided much longer.

No matter how many times Jesus prayed that the cup would pass him by, it didn’t. And he knew it couldn’t. We are all going to have to drink this one to the lees. God grant us courage to face what has to be faced, and peace in our decisions when we finally have to decide.