Professor Jack Johnson argues that if Methodists who want to move beyond the church’s currently discriminatory practices toward gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people may need to make an amicable break with the larger church.
After years of debate over progressive views of lesbian and gay ordination and marriage, the United Methodist Church reaffirmed its traditional stance at the 2012 General Conference in Tampa, Fla. Due to the UMC’s growth in Africa and Asia and decline in Europe and North America, many progressives fear the denomination will retain current prohibitions around LGBT inclusion for years to come. Advocates of inclusion are, therefore, left with four choices of how to proceed: covenanting to partner with the majority (whether or not it reflects a progressive vision), leaving the denomination for progressive ones, civil disobedience, or starting a conversation for an equitable division of the UMC.
This summer, the Western and Northeastern Jurisdictions, along with numerous pastors and churches in other jurisdictions, chose civil disobedience. While calling for noncompliance to the Book of Discipline heartens many progressives, it may destroy the possibility of their progressive Wesleyan vision coming to fruition. Of the four options, I propose that for missional reasons the best alternative for progressives is to begin a conversation about an equitable division of the denomination.
After assessing other scenarios in his essay for the United Methodist Reporter, Johnson writes:
If what progressives desire is a vibrant Wesleyan movement rooted in progressive values, especially as they relate to LGBT ordination and marriage, as opposed to an inclusive UMC at any cost, I propose a fourth option. Let’s begin serious discussion about dividing from one UMC to at least two new, distinct denominations.
This conversation would of course have to navigate many significant issues. They would include property (local church, Annual Conference, Jurisdictional Conference and denominational property), clergy pensions and seminaries, to name but a few. Other issues—such as the fact that the progressive/traditionalist divide is not purely geographic as a number of congregations and clergy in the West are rather traditionalist, while many progressives find their home in the Southeast—will also be problematic. Furthermore, the majority of the UMC that tries to live in the middle may be hesitant to claim a home in either a progressive or traditional vision of United Methodism.
Nevertheless, out of missional necessity, and in the light of the denomination’s continued decline, it is time for a conversation to begin on an equitable split of the UMC.