January 6th, 2020

how long

Please don't talk about me when I'm gone

Warner Brothers' Looney Tunes provided the soundtrack of my childhood. In the classic cartoon, "One Froggy Night," a singing frog (later named Michigan J. Frog) provides the only dialogue, consisting entirely of old Tin Pan Alley hits. One of these is a breakup song. The two lines quoted are,
Please don't talk about me when I'm gone,
Oh Honey, though our friendship ceases from now on.
I thought of these lines after reading several United Methodists fretting over how progressives and centrists are describing the proposed denominational separation. Traditionalists are viewed as a troublesome minority by these people, who will finally leave so that the church can proceed on its destined course. Traditionalists want it clearly understood that they have won the argument in 13 straight General Conferences, and they constitute a global majority of The UMC. Which is all true. But once the separation is accomplished, the Rump UMC will always represent the trads as a backward minority. That's how they talk about us now (even though it's not true), and it's how they will always talk about us. Adam Hamilton will never have anything but disdain for us in any of his books.

Yeah, but then if we're the majority, why are we leaving? Why should we start over and give the keys to the family home to those guys?

I feel the weight of that argument. I was always for staying. The UMC is my home, the only church I ever wanted to belong to. I had assumed after GC19, we -- the global majority of traditionalists -- would take over the denomination legislatively, and the progressives (or at least, the most radical of them) would leave. And the progs started planning to leave, but then the centrists blew up. The institutionalists, the bishops, the moderately liberal clergy decided to join the mutiny. Now, it's a civil war. The global majority -- locked in for generations due to growth in Africa and decline in America -- can pass all the plans they want, but they can't enforce them, at least in America. The Judicial Council can say that Karen Oliveto's consecration was unlawful (and they have) until they're blue in the face, but they can't remove her from the episcopacy. Enforcement of General Conference decisions depends upon bishops, Boards of Ordained Ministry, and Conferences executing the provisions of the Discipline. The centrists are willing to tear the church apart in order to keep control of the apparatus.

No doubt they would say they were acting out of sincere theological conviction. That's not the way I see it, but they are free to tell that story about themselves, to themselves. They are also free to tell any story they like about the motives of the traditionalists -- and will. It will be for the historians to sort it all out.

I find myself in the position of wanting to stay and fight for the right -- to turn back at the door and say, "And another thing!" But my friends are pulling at my coat saying, "Come ON, Arthur, you've had quite enough for one night." And I think they are correct. The United Methodist Church is currently ungovernable. Somebody has to leave. And somebody has to make the sacrifices to resolve the impasse, even if their motives are misunderstood. Not only that, but somebody has to be willing to compromise and take less than they are due, if anybody is to get out of this with anything worth having.

It is also the case that once any significant portion of the trads leaves, the balance of power will switch, and the UMC will become (even against its will) a denomination of, by, and for the progressives. And people are already heading for the doors. If we want to keep together the maximum number of traditionalists (here and abroad) that we can, we need to go together, and we need to go soon. It's not what I wanted, but it's probably what has to be. And if it has to be, then it needs all of us, clergy and lay, to care for those caught up in it. We need to make the new denom a success.

There are days when I am excited about the possibilities ahead. There are other days when I hanker after the fleshpots of Egypt (to borrow a Biblical phrase). But I'll be hanged if I'm going to care what the likes of Adam Hamilton or anyone else says about me.