7 Questions for the Potential #UMC Schismatics
1. Is it about holiness or power? If it is about holiness, there are existing Wesleyan communities that will share your core theological convictions and perspectives about human sexuality. If it is about power, you will elect to go your own way. If it is about being true Wesleyans and holding unflinchingly to traditionalist views of marriage, the Church of the Nazarene, Wesleyan Church, or other bodies would be happy to have you. Why not strengthen an existing communion instead of adding to the brokenness of the Body of Christ?
2. Will you have bishops? I would note that, even if you do not like the historic episcopal office, you have authoritative voices among you which function like the historic episcopos: voices that you rally around, that provide unity and vision for your movement. Which is to say: you may not care for the current slate of UMC bishops, but it is difficult to escape to need for leadership by whatever name.
3. When will you have your Jerry Maguire moment? (“Who’s going with me?“) Will you be content to leave on your own, or will you attempt do divide the UMC from some of its overseas partners, as has happened frequently in the Anglican world? To put it another way, how many eggs do you want to break to make your new omelet?
4. Will you itinerate? Many of the 60+ threatening schism have practically existed outside of the itinerant system, which leaves me wondering if you will move from a connectional polity to a congregationalist polity. Of course, even in our current system, large churches are often able to function like they are within a congregationalist/call system.
5. What about female clergy? The strict biblicism embraced by many of you about human sexuality could easily lend itself to moving the clock back on women’s ordination and leadership (especially since so many, if not all, of the leaders of this movement are men). Wesley and his ecclesial progeny were among the first to recognize the value of women in the pulpit, and it would be a shame to see this lost in a schism.
6. Has it already started? The so-called Wesleyan Covenant Network sounds very much like the Fellowship of Presbyterians/ECO, which quickly moved from a group of like-minded Presbyterians to a new denomination stealing congregations and promising more autonomy (see #1 above).
7. What is your end game? Unlike some, I don’t think calling your bluff is helpful. I appreciate being part of a big tent denomination, large enough for you and the Pacific Northwest and everything in between. But we need to find a way to live together. So, what do you want?
P.S. I am under no illusions that those threatening to pull away or withhold funds are the only (possible) schismatics in the church. It can be argued that those churches/conferences/bishops that are choosing to ignore the discipline are acting in a schismatic way as well, even if they don’t go so far as withdrawing in toto.