Behind the rumors of schism
By Andy Adams
I think we accomplished more legislatively today than we did in all of 2012, but it is my sense that most people are primarily concerned with the future state of The United Methodist Church. Thus, I want to offer a two part opinion piece that 1) provides an informed guess about all the events that led to this morning’s chaos, and 2) some of the possible ways forward for our denomination.
So, what happened to get the rumor mill buzzing and created a feeling of panic across denomination? The following is my best piecing together of what generally happened along with my own interpretive lens:
Pre-GC through May 15th – Apparently at least one bishop (and possibly more) had been in conversation with some of the caucus group leaders representing the differing stances on human sexuality within the church including Good News (proponents of keeping our current Disciplinary language), Love Your Neighbor (in favor of “full inclusion” of LGBTQ community – meaning they affirm clergy performing same-sex marriages and ordination of openly practicing homosexuals) and some large church pastors who have proposed what they call a “third way” (allowing pastors and churches to individually choose their stance without a mandate either way). It seems this group had been in conversations about possible ways forward including the possibility of schism.
Monday, May 16th – As the votes came in for elections to the Judicial Council, University Senate and Commission on General Conference, it became fairly evident that the majority of those elected were favored by Good News. This signaled the “writing on the wall” for Love Your Neighbor and there was amplified talk of further General Conference disruption and even a more aggressive move toward schism. Thus, Monday evening, the fact that there had been behind closed door meetings discussing ways forward, INCLUDING ways for the church to split up, was leaked and that sparked a firestorm of panic. Whether or not it was intentional, this certainly “disrupted” General Conference.
Tuesday, May 17th – Recognizing the outright chaos and fear of the conference and wider denomination, the Council of Bishops found themselves in a mess, one that they helped to create with their involvement in “behind closed door” conversations. [To be clear, I don’t think ill of their motivation, but the lack of transparency does not inspire trust!]. Caught with their hand in the cookie jar, the COB called a time out on themselves. President of the COB, Bishop Bruce Ough addressed the General Conference declaring that the bishops were as divided as the rest of the church, and would not be bringing forward or supporting any plans of schism. They would preside, but not lead during the way forward. Soon afterward, proponents of this “middle way” urgently requested that the bishops “do what they were elected to do” and lead the way forward. In a very mixed vote (passed by roughly 100 votes), the body requested that the bishops come back with suggestions tomorrow morning.
In part two, I will offer some of the possible ways forward for our denomination that is deeply divided around human sexuality.