In the wake of the UMC’s persecution of Rev. Frank Schaefer for performing his son’s wedding, I read a very good article on the Huffington Post by the Rev. Dr. Nancy Wilson titled “A Methodist Inquisition“. In it, she spoke of all the trials the UMC faces on this subject including one for UMC stalwart Bishop Melvin Talbert. Two things stood out most for me in this piece. First, her review of the history of Methodism and how, from its inception, it embraced those that other denominations ignored as unworthy of salvation. The second was this: “More than thirty colleague clergy celebrated a same-gender wedding, days before Schaefer’s trial, to make the point that the church will not be able to handle all the trials coming.”
Things are coming to a head. After Schaefer’s trial, a petition signed by 25,000 people was presented to Bishop Peggy Johnson who said she tried to avoid the procedure, but her hands were tied by the Discipline. The petition asks the bishop to stop holding church trials. As much as I would like that, I don’t think this entreaty will be heeded. The way I understand things, Johnson’s hands were tied because UMC policy requires that once a charge is filed, it must be investigated and, if there are grounds, the accused must be brought to account. In some cases, there might be loopholes that could be found if people looked hard enough, but not always. The only sure way to prevent future trials is to change the Discipline. And, as we saw in Florida last year, that’s not likely to happen anytime soon because conservatives in the U.S. (mostly in the southeast) have allied with UM churches from the Global South to hold the line against any changes that might stray from the hard line on LGBT issues that most hold. I seriously doubt they’d be willing to forgo trials. Without them, how would they enforce their will on the rest of the church?
Progressives might as well get used to the fact that conservatives are never going to give on this issue. Given how strongly they believe that anything other than heterosexuality is a sin, I’m not so sure they should. Forcing people to support beliefs they don’t agree with is un-American, if not un-Christian. Those of us who are progressive feel it’s wrong when we’re forced by a majority vote to exclude our brothers and sisters who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and/or transgender; forcing conservatives to embrace people who they strongly believe are sinning would be just as wrong. So, what the answer? If you’re a good Methodist, hold on to your hat, because I’m about to suggest something controversial here: split and let the two groups go their own way. I know that’s a sacrilege to some of you, but I think it’s the only way to prevent the UMC from driving itself into irrelevance.
It’s not a move without precedence. In 1844, the Methodist Episcopal Church split over the issue of slavery, with the pro-slavery group forming the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. The split lasted until 1939, when the two factions reunited, proof that any division isn’t necessarily permanent. I mean, if those guys could get back together after dividing on an issue the country fought a war over, reconciling over sexuality seems like a no-brainer.
It comes down to this: can you, as a progressive, continue to worship in and support a church that denies the equality of all God’s children? By the same token, can you, as a conservative, worship and support a church that condones what you believe is a grave sin? The solution proposed here is far from perfect, but it’s the only one I’ve seen that offers any compromise at all.