Does United Methodism Need a Map?

I fell in love with maps as a child. As a native Southern Californian, I would read and study the old Thomas Guide map of Los Angeles. Growing up in LA meant learning that there were often many paths to the same destination. With the dawn of GPS and the “egocentric” map, the skill of seeing multiple paths in the big picture of things is diminishing all too quickly.

As we wait for the official legislation for the 2020 General Conference of the UMC, it might help us to layout a map, not a GPS, to help us see all the paths we have. What is abundantly clear to me, is that our destination of full and radical inclusivity of all people cannot be reached with the current makeup of the UMC. The fundamentalist faction (I refuse to accede the word evangelical!) of the UMC has road-blocked any path toward a generous inclusion. There will be a separation. The question is how it will happen.

The divisive behaviors of the fundamentalist faction of church are plain to see. The Wesley Covenant Association (WCA) has already drafted a Book of Discipline. This same fundamentalist arm, funded by The Institute for Religion and Democracy (IRD), opened a separate mission agency, publishing house, and developed curricular (Christian Education) content years ago. To date, only these fundamentalist churches have left annual conferences while those that remain have a checkered history in supporting the global church. The roadblock appears permanent.

The fundamentalist faction of the UMC still has leverage to enact additional punitive measures in 2020. Based on our past behaviors in the west, I would suggest that our best pathway forward is to “call the bluff.”

If we signal an exit from the denomination, we play into the hand of the fundamentalists. We leave behind the resources of the general church and strand those churches across the nation that are like-minded with us. While we may create a way to rescue those churches, the process will take years and will continue to distract us from our primary work of making disciples and growing churches. (Keep in mind that the Western Jurisdiction is barely 20% of the size of any of the other jurisdictions.) Additionally, the impact of leaving on our non-Caucasian churches is something we rarely discuss, which is perhaps the proverbial “log in our own eye.” (My colleague Rev. Jorge Domingues, will address this very topic next week.)

If we hope that the 2020 General Conference will do something creative and innovative that allows for us to live out a fully inclusive church, we take the same route we have for decades. Votes are votes. Math is math. To believe that the only solution is a legislative solution is to fail to account for 40 years of experience.

I suggest that we stand strong with courage. This alternate route is to resolve, in a public manner, to defy the punitive measures in the Book of Discipline. Let the fundamentalists double or even triple their punitive measures. Why? The fundamentalist faction of the church is schismatic by nature and in its behaviors. They live in an exclusionary world of polarity. It appears they have not read Wesley’s sermons: On Schism, Catholic Spirit, On Bigotry.

In the west, we have fought long and hard to be a church that welcomes people of all races, cultures, languages, sexual orientation, and identity. Just this last year the California-Nevada Conference ordained more LGBTQIA+ persons into ministry than any other annual conference. We have not practiced a “stay and resist” policy. We embrace a courageous defiance. It is time to fully embrace our prophetic role.

Our “alternate route” has not been fruitless for these many decades. Perhaps we need to invite those who demonstrate the behaviors of schism to act with full resolve. As we stand our ground, the fundamentalist efforts to control the church will be futile. They will leave. Their behaviors are consistent with it. It is a matter of time. While the fundamentalists may bring their complaints on January 1, there is nothing they can do to make us all leave. Leaving is an active conscious step to depart.

What we agree on in the west is that our destination is clear. A church that is for and with all people including LGBTQIA+ persons. A Wesleyan church that believes that everyone everywhere is a recipient of the grace of God. A church whose defiant witness against “evil, injustice, and oppression” sometimes requires us to take an alternate route on the map. Movements are rarely borne from haste. They happen when we defiantly challenge the status quo.

Our courageous, self-aware, defiance is the very substance of our social witness. This alternate route may be the harder one to take, but we arrive at our destination with greater integrity and the fruit of bringing as much of the church with us into a new day.

While I do serve on the Extended Cabinet of the California-Nevada Annual Conference, this blog is solely my own opinion and does not speak for the Extended Cabinet.