A Way Forward
Families are wonderful, awful things. At their best they offer encouragement and support. They allow each member to grow to their full God given capacity. At their worst, families bicker and fight over big and small things and hold one another back.
Christianity has been arguing over our sexuality since the Garden when Adam asked Eve to take the fall for his choice to eat the apple. Actually, how you read that first story in our Bible is the real argument we continue to have - what is the nature and purpose of Scripture?
The United Methodist Church is united by two documents: the Bible and our Book of Discipline. At the heart of the current controversy is this paragraph in our Book of Discipline regarding clergy:
¶ 304.3 Qualifications for Ordination
While persons set apart by the Church for ordained ministry are subject to all the frailties of the human condition and the pressures of society, they are required to maintain the highest standards of holy living in the world. The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. Therefore self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church.
Over the centuries issues of our "human frailty" have divided, and some say, multiplied the people of God. Abraham disagreed with his nephew Lot and they went separate ways. When king David's grandson, Rehoboam, succeeded Solomon the kingdom divided into Israel and Judah each believing they were more "right" or "pure." From 325 - 787 seven "ecumenical" councils met and, with each argument, a new branch of Christianity was created. Ironically, "ecumenical" means promoting unity.
In 1054 the Great Schism (break) resulted in the Roman Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox church. In the 1500s, Protestants like Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli challenged the status quo, were labeled heretics, and new expressions of the Christian faith were born - Lutheran, Anabaptist (rejected infant baptism for a "believer's baptism" only) including Mennonite, Amish, and Baptist. Calvin's thoughts led to a reformed theology found in the Presbyterian and Congregational churches. In the 1700s, Wesley's opinions and practices led to the Methodist church while the king's opinions led to the creation of the Church of England (Anglican or Episcopal church in north America).
Opinions on slavery and the need for bishops split the Methodists in America into Wesleyan, Free Methodist, Methodist Episcopal, and Methodist Episcopal South, camps. A desire for a purer faith further splintered the Methodist movement into Pentecostal, Nazarene, Assemblies of God, Salvation Army, and more recently the Vineyard and Four Square Gospel churches.
I believe a good perspective on the continual branching of our faith is found in the book of Acts where Peter and the other apostles have been called before the Jewish council in Jerusalem for "spreading lies" about Jesus and causing division in the Jewish community.
Acts 5:35-39, Then Gamaliel addressed his colleagues: "Men of Israel, take care what you are planning to do to these men! Some time ago there was that fellow Theudas, who pretended to be someone great. About four hundred others joined him, but he was killed, and his followers went their various ways. The whole movement came to nothing. After him, at the time of the census, there was Judas of Galilee. He got some people to follow him, but he was killed, too, and all his followers were scattered. So my advice is, leave these men alone. If they are teaching and doing these things merely on their own, it will soon be overthrown. But if it is of God, you will not be able to stop them. You may even find yourselves fighting against God."
For those embroiled in a "faith war" Gamaliel's wisdom sounds like fatalism - que sera, sera: whatever will be, will be. But, if we believe in any measure that God is sovereign (all powerful), then Gamaliel's advice rings true for the United Methodist Church today.
The first of John Wesley's general rules for a Methodist is to: "Do no harm." Christians should divorce differently than non-Christians. That is why we have entered into a 3-year exploration of how we can go our separate ways - A Way Forward. Our Florida bishop, Ken Carter, and the rest of the commission on A Way Forward will present their findings to the General Conference in 2019. Some seem to believe that we can remain United. I find that as irrational as Peter and the Apostles limiting their activities to please the Jewish council. When a church family reaches a soul-deep division, we need to divorce amicably and pray that each division brings glory to God and honors Jesus Christ.
But, that is just my opinion at this point. And, all opinions are subject to change. As your spiritual coach, I believe it would be irresponsible for me not to keep you informed and to ask you as individuals and as a church to begin open and honest dialog about where Hudson First UMC is heading in the next 3 to 5 years. We have begun this discussion as a church staff. I introduced this conversation at the November 21st Church Council meeting and recommended they form our own "A Way Forward" team to help us chart and navigate this storm.
Please be in prayer for Christ's work being done through the United Methodist Church. Continue to be inclusive in your understanding of the Gospel. Please take sin in your life seriously. Please do not diminish the work of Grace our Savior continues to do by trying to do it yourself. Please do not join voices who argue from anger instead of discuss out of our continuing discipleship journeys. Solo Dei - pastor Jerry