Everywhere I turn I hear noise. There are squeaky wheels screeching across our denomination, our state, our nation, and our world. The clamor for attention is at an all time high.
Unfortunately, the current outcry within our denomination is causing such a commotion and creating such an uproar, that it is drowning out the noises that we are called to produce. The result is that we are dangerously close to normalizing bad behavior simply because the high pitch of the squeak has forced us to give more attention than is really warranted. I am not trying to be dismissive, nor am I suggesting that our problems are not real, but what I am trying to say is that there are other noises that are being ignored in favor of giving preferential treatment to a squeaky wheel called disaffiliation.
As I move around this Annual Conference (IGRC) I am discovering that the squeaky wheel of disaffiliation has very little to do with its originally intended usage. Disaffiliation began as a way for churches that are in disagreement with the current United Methodist position on homosexuality, to leave the denomination.
“Because of the current deep conflict within The United Methodist Church around issues of human sexuality, a local church shall have a limited right, under the provisions of this paragraph, to disaffiliate from the denomination for reasons of conscience regarding a change in the requirements and provisions of the Book of Discipline related to the practice of homosexuality or the ordination or marriage of self- avowed practicing homosexuals as resolved and adopted by the 2019 General Conference, or the actions or inactions of its annual conference related to these issues which follow.” (Paragraph 2553 – UM Book of Discipline)
The discussions and talks about disaffiliation that I’ve heard, and continue to hear, have little to nothing to do with the denomination’s stance on human sexuality. In fact, most churches seeking disaffiliation, after carefully listening to the United Methodist doctrinal position, almost unanimously affirm that the position is consistent with their local church’s position. There are churches and pastors that are NOT in agreement with the current position, and they are working, according to our process of governance, to change the position. None of those churches are currently pursuing disaffiliation.
Disaffiliation is being used as a smoke screen for churches and pastors that are unhappy about other issues that they fail to articulate. Issues like the appointment of pastors, paying apportionments, the desire for congregational independence, the authority of the Annual Conference, the authority of the bishop (especially the authority exercised during COVID in closing in-person worship), and the itinerate system. Churches and pastors are looking for ways
to “do their own thing” independently, and have turned up the volume so that the noise of disaffiliation takes center stage.
It is much easier to focus our attention on noises dealing with allegations of our unraveling so that we do not have to deal with our deafening silence when it comes to noises that reflect our lack of productivity, or noises that address issues of systemic failure. To put it simply, we are allowing the squeaky wheel to get the grease, while our attention and focus need to be elsewhere.
Our mission is, “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” Most of the churches in the IGRC and across the United Methodist connection, are not accomplishing the mission. Some of the churches seeking disaffiliation, say that they are being hindered in reaching people for Jesus Christ, because of the denomination’s position on human sexuality, while failing to realize that the denomination’s position has not changed since 1972!
A few self-serving squeaky wheels are causing some to listen for the wrong sounds. To be sure, there are challenges in our denomination, and we struggle with a few glaring, headline grabbing cases of disobedience to the Book of Discipline. The plain truth is that in nearly every cited infraction there has been no direct link that has stopped or hindered ministry in any of the churches and ministries across the IGRC. No one is stopping our pastors and congregations from leading people to faith in Jesus Christ or blocking the church from discipling people that want to follow Jesus. No one is standing in the way pastors or laity interpret being “biblical” or operating with integrity. As United Methodists we are in danger of normalizing bad behavior and excusing ourselves from taking responsibility by joining the noise calling for disaffiliation.
Here’s a short list of noises that I believe should be heard in healthy churches:
§ Crying babies – denoting biological growth
§ “Amens” and shouts of praise – reflecting growth in worship
§ Folding chairs – sounds of numerical growth
§ Sobbing, Tears, and Tissues being passed – spiritual growth
§ Bible pages being turned (pinging cell phones) – growth in discipleship
§ Laughter in the halls – growth in fellowship
§ Noisy buckets, Checks being torn out, pinging cell phones – stewardship and mission giving
§ The brush of angel’s wings – experiencing the presence of the Lord
The squeaky wheel of disaffiliation is getting too much attention. Let us recommit ourselves and our congregations to the mission of the church so that the noises we are called to produce can be heard loud and clear.