What is the way forward?
By Andy Adams
Although we accomplished more legislatively today than we did in all of 2012, it is my sense that most people are primarily concerned with the future state of the United Methodist Church. Here is part two of my opinion piece. Part one provided an informed guess about all the events that led to this morning’s chaos.
Now I’ll offer some of the possible ways forward for our denomination. I’ll offer the wide spectrum with brief explanation why they could or could not work.
Emphasis on current Disciplinary language with deeper accountability – This position is what the Good News and African contingent is angling for. It would keep the current “incompatibility” language with regards to homosexual practice and strengthen the accountability for bishops or clergy who choose to break their covenant vows to adhere to the Discipline. This would mean the “right” wins and the “left” loses resulting in further pain and a resolve for louder and more radical acts of defiance. The possibility of this position being played out may have led to the leaking of rumors of schism last night.
Keep everything the same – This would be the default if we can’t agree on anything. This would likely lead to more disunity under the false guise of unity as more clergy and bishops defy the Discipline without a structure of recourse. We would continue to fight the rhetorical battles and it would get uglier.
Adopt some version of a “third way” – This would effectively make what is currently happening “legal” acknowledging that we as a denomination can’t agree. Some things about this plan are desirable – fewer trials and bad press, etc. However, it wouldn’t satisfy anyone. Those on the “right” wouldn’t stand for it, and those on the “left” would continue to fight to mandate every church/conference be fully inclusive. We would continue to fight the battle every four years.
Become a fully LGBTQ inclusive church – The language here can be misleading. All people are loved and welcomed in the UMC regardless of anything really. However, the LGBTQ community feels less than included because of the prohibition of 1) clergy conducting same sex weddings and 2) ordination of openly practicing LGBTQ clergy. Obviously, the “right” would never move in this direction, and it is unlikely this kind of legislation would pass in any form. However, this is what progressives have been working toward for 44 years.
If schism occurs, we could find ourselves with two or more factions representing any or all of these positions. But most of the UMC isn’t keen on schism. That could blow up so much we’ve worked for including many of our churches who would have to fight this battle on the local level. We don’t want that. So what other options are there?
The “Love Alike” plan or something similar – The best bet we have to remain united is to help the “right” and the “left” both win. I believe this can only happen if we essentially have two churches with two sets of rules regarding human sexuality operating under the same United Methodist umbrella. The “Love Alike” plan works toward that end effectively allowing those who can’t, with integrity, abide by the current discipline to align themselves together even if that isn’t perfectly regionally based. I won’t get into all the details, but this type of plan seems like the most logical way forward considering neither side will change their minds about whether homosexual practice is sinful or not.
Whether it happens tomorrow, before the end of General Conference, or at some point in the coming years, I anticipate the Counsel of Bishops to bring forward some plan that involves amicable schism or some form of two churches under one umbrella. It seems the only way forward that will end the rancorous arguing over positions on human sexuality.
Please continue praying for our bishops, our churches, all of our delegates, and most importantly the world that we are called to go into to make disciples.